The software giant will provide documentation and royalty-free licenses for the extensible markup language (XML) schema the diagramming and drawing program uses to describe documents.
XML is the fast-growing standard for exchanging data among computing systems. Microsoft uses proprietary dialects, or schemas, to describe XML data in many of its applications.
The Visio move follows the release late last year of XML schemas forin its Office System line: the Excel spreadsheet and InfoPath electronic forms programs, and the word processor, Word.
Microsoft characterized the decision as an effort to expand business use of XML and encourage software partners to make use of the format, although analysts also saw regulatory pressuresin the program.
The XML maneuvers also have been seen as part of slowly escalating willingness by the company to reveal the underpinnings of its software as part of its.
Visio--also part of Office System--is used to create complex business graphics such as organizational charts. Bobby Moore, a Microsoft product manager, said that by releasing the XML format the application uses, Microsoft hopes to encourage other software makers to use Visio charts as a presentation format.
Particularly with data from back-end software such as customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning systems, Visio charts can offer a compelling way to view complex data sets, he said. "There are certain areas where it really helps to be able to visualize the data."
Visio charts can also be more useful if they're tied to back-end systems, Moore added.
"In the past, Visio has been very good in select situations for creating static diagrams, but we think there's a lot of value in being able to create dynamic diagrams," he said. "You might create an org chart that's linked to a back-end database, and changes are made to that org chart as they're entered in the database."
The Visio schema, called DataDiagramML, is available for royalty-free licensing now through the Office Developer Center.