Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 2nd Aug 2007 23:01 UTC
Features, Office The commonwealth of Massachusetts has officially thrown its weight behind Microsoft's Office Open XML format along with the OASIS Open Document Format. In July, the commonwealth added Microsoft's format, also known as Ecma-376 or Open XML, to the list of approved standards in a draft of the Massachusetts ETRM, an architectural framework used to identify the standards, specifications and technologies that support Massachusetts' computing environment.
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RE[2]: Amusing
by sb56637 on Fri 3rd Aug 2007 04:16 UTC in reply to "RE: Amusing"
Member since:

>>What good is an open format if have to convert documents from a proprietary format? What use is interoperability in the present without interoperability with the past?

Very true. But too bad nobody thought of that back when Massachusetts was using DOC as their default. They got locked in by their vendor, and they still are to a certain extent. Such are the consequences of bad technology choices.

Reply Parent Score: 6

RE[3]: Amusing
by Bryan on Fri 3rd Aug 2007 06:06 in reply to "RE[2]: Amusing"
Bryan Member since:

"Bad technology choices"? What exactly were the alternatives, say, 10 years ago? Maybe Lotus or WordPerfect, but those would have simply been different proprietary formats. HTML on its own wasn't rich enough for documents or slides and would have been completely inapproprate for spreadsheets. SGML was too complex and XML was yet to be ratified.

For better or worse, Microsoft Office was and still is the dominant application. A lot of ODF advocates seem to believe that technology decisions should be made in a vacuum, but that isn't feasible for any organization that's concerned with moving large libraries of existing documents to XML formats without having to visually confirm that nothing gets corrupted in the process.

Even if Open XML does eventually eclipse ODF, it's still a significant step forward. Just because Microsoft was by far the dominate contributor for the initial version doesn't necessarily mean that can't change for future revisions. (In fact, according to Wikipedia's article on ECMAScript [1], the initial version was based on Microsoft's JScript implementation.) I can't speak to the complexity point, since I don't have a thorough understanding of either spec. I can point out, however, that (1) it's highly unlikely that anyone will need to understand the whole thing except those who implement complete office suites or search indexers, and (2) most people will eventually create and modify these documents through some higher level library than sifting through the raw XML and ZIP container.

I've been really surprised by all the histrionics that resulted from what, at the end of the day, is a pretty mundane decision. Open XML does have problems, which should definitely be addressed before a final ISO standard is ratified. But I can't see why people were so hellbent that Open XML not even be considered as legitimate alternative. It seems clear to me that IBM lobbied hard to push ODF into the spotlight to give their own products an advantage over Office and then was shocked to see that Microsoft didn't sit still and take it. That they managed to convince so many people that this was a frontline battle between "us vs. them" is pretty remarkable. Open XML will probably no more destroy ODF than the CLR did Java.

I'm glad the Massachusetts decision has been made; hopefully the ISO process will wrap up without too much middle school drama and everyone can realize what a non-event this is.


Edited 2007-08-03 06:07

Reply Parent Score: 5

RE[4]: Amusing
by butters on Fri 3rd Aug 2007 08:05 in reply to "RE[3]: Amusing"
butters Member since:

Generic markup languages have been around since the 1960s. There's no reason why a document format couldn't have been developed in the early 90s as a set of SGML DTDs. At the time, HTML was essentially an SGML-compliant markup. Later, they could have been transitioned to XML, just like what (sort of) happened with XHTML. TeX was a stable markup-based document format by 1990.

The fact of the matter is that OpenXML is a bad standard. Not because it isn't open enough, although there are some concerns, but because it doesn't even pretend to be application-neutral. It's a format designed specifically for Microsoft's proprietary office suite. It doesn't make sense from the perspective of the problem, which is to rigorously define a range of generic document types. They didn't start by asking, "What is a document?" Instead they asked, "How does Microsoft Office manipulate documents?"

As for ECMAScript, that's the name of the standard based on JavaScript, which was developed by Sun, of course. Microsoft made a Y2K-compliant version, JScript, and put it through the standardization process.

As for ISO, the debate will be over in about a month. Right now, it's too close to call. There's a serious chance that OpenXML will be rejected even if Microsoft addresses the objections already raised. The ball is essentially in America's court (no pun intended), and it's a tough call. Microsoft, IBM, Sun, Adobe, Boeing, and several other stakeholders on both sides are American corporations. America might vote to reject simply because there's too much contention.

Finally, I see an opportunity for cooler technologies to prevail. A document is really a part of a deconstructed Web-2.0 stack. Split that into markup (i.e. XAML), scripting (i.e. JScript), and runtime (i.e. .NET). Then take the markup apart into your document and interface markups. You can then distill the document markup into an immutable document markup (i.e. XPS).

But OpenXML doesn't have this relationship with the rest of the Microsoft Web stack. This is especially interesting because XPS is indeed related to XAML. The difference is that a document format must support editing. But doesn't a XAML presentation also need to support editing? It seems that Microsoft, the vendor that brought us Frontpage (for better or worse), doesn't see the design synergy between a WYSIWYG document suite and a WYSIWYG Web development suite.

So the logical solution is to combine an interface markup with a document markup, each designed to be mutable with immutable shorthands. OASIS has an interface markup in development called UIML, but I'm not sure if it's compatible with ODF. Mozilla's XUL is another option. Of course, if Microsoft chooses not to support the resulting presentation markup in IE, then the idea is less attractive.

Reply Parent Score: 7