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Microsoft touts accounting format

PricewaterhouseCoopers and Nasdaq join the software maker in a pilot program promoting the use of a file format aimed at accurate financial reporting.

PricewaterhouseCoopers and Nasdaq on Tuesday joined Microsoft in a pilot program promoting the use of a file format that the software giant is touting for accurate financial reporting.

Seizing on an opportunity presented by a string of financial scandals, such as those that hit Enron and WorldCom, Microsoft hopes to generate interest in Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), a file format that right now works best with the company's Excel 2000 or Excel XP.

XBRL is a form of Extensible Markup Language (XML), which Microsoft and some other companies have been championing as a more flexible way to handle data.

The move is part of Microsoft's attempt to reposition Office as a Web services tool--that is, to fit it into a newer way to design and build software so that it's easier to exchange data between disparate systems.

"Office is the front end for all of these back-end Web services," said David Jaffe, Office lead product manager. "XBRL is just one of them."

Jaffe said Microsoft is recasting Office as a way to access data from back-end systems using Web services.

Consulting giant PwC designed the pilot, which will offer five years of financial information on 20 semiconductor companies and on Microsoft. The information will be hosted by the Nasdaq stock market and accessed using Microsoft Office.

"Basically a person can download an Excel spreadsheet that is attached to a Nasdaq Web service," Jaffe said. Users will be able to access and manipulate information in "fairly granular detail," he said.

Five years of annual reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission and two years of quarterly filings will be available for the 21 companies whose financial information will be used for the pilot program.

Already Microsoft has posted 10 financial statements on its Web site. The company last month released its fiscal 2002 fourth-quarter financial statement in XBRL.