Microsoft is facing criticism over the influence it is exerting to have a new document format accepted as a European standard.

Two organisations, OpenForum Europe (OFE), an organisation set up to advance the use of open standards, and the Open Document Format (ODF) Alliance, a campaigning group promoting open document format representing over 210 organisations in 30 countries, highlight that the new standard, Microsoft licenced Office Open XML, is being fast tracked to become a new European ISO/IEC standard.

The ODF Alliance said this new standard, submitted to the European Union by the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA), has an unrealistic deadline for stakeholders to engage in proper discussion over its adoption where interested parties have only up to 5 February to express their views. “There are major difficulties with ECMA’s standard, which if accepted will affect future formats of all documents on which all office and word processing software depends, and ultimately convenience and cost. It will reinforce the current supplier monopoly position, limit customer choice and increase costs for European business and consumers,” said Graham Taylor, director OpenForum Europe.

The alliance said the 6,000-page standard is too complex and duplicates the recently ratified standard Open Document Format (ODF). It warned this could lead to issues of system complexity, development, maintenance, archiving and licensing. And, where elements of ECMA’s standard contradict the recently ratified ODF standard, the Microsoft standard would, if implemented lead to confusion for software developers, increase cost and leading to problems sharing and archiving documents. It also said there are also serious doubts that the standard could be implemented outside the Microsoft environment, due to licence requirements that have not been made explicit.

On another front Microsoft has offered an Australian software engineer payment to edit certain entries in the Wikipedia online dictionary, igniting a heated debate about the ethics of such a move.

Rick Jelliffe, chief technology officer of XML tools company Topologi, said he will probably accept a contract from Microsoft to edit Wikipedia entries on the competing document format standards ODF (OpenDocument Format) and OOXML (Microsoft Office Open XML).

Jelliffe wrote "The XML & SGML Cookbook" and describes himself as a standards enthusiast. He says he has added material to Wikipedia entries in the past, and that he doesn't consider himself as being hired to add pro-Microsoft information, just to correct errors.

His disclosure unleashed a heated debate about the ethics of a company paying someone to edit Wikipedia entries, and the effect such payment has on the credibility of the site. "From now on we should take the Wikipedia entry on OpenDocument with a grain of salt," wrote Daniel Carrera, an ODF developer, in an email.

Microsoft created OOXML to compete with ODF, an electronic document format backed by Sun, IBM and open source companies. ODF appeals to users interested in open-standard document formats that will ensure they can continue to access their existing files and to lessen their dependence on Microsoft. While the formats are competitive, some companies, such as Corel and Novell, have said they'll support both.

Nancy Gohring contributed to this story