Format Wars: OpenXML Developer

OpenXML Developer

OpenXML Developer is a web-site dedicated to developers of OpenXML applications. The OpenXML format is Microsoft’s proposed open document format standard. OpenXML will become the default file-format for the next version of Microsoft Office, Office 12 or Office 2007.

OpenXML, or “Office 2003 reference schemas” is often seen as a strategic move by Microsoft to try to take attention away from another proposed document standard, the OpenDocument Format (ODF), that is backed by the ODFAlliance.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I really fail to see the need for more than one standard, and I really hope that Microsoft decide to support OpenDocument. For now Microsoft has said that they will leave implementation of ODF to 3rd parties.

One thing I find interesting is that OpenOffice.Org, most likely will have support for OpenXML, as well as ODF…Just another reason to switch.

Looking at the content of the OpenXML Developer site, I can see that sections dedicated to Linux and Mac OS developers has been added, but the samples that are present right now is limited to Java and .NET, and it looks like Microsoft will be adding special APIs to .NET that aims to simplify creation of binary content, e.g. attachments, and the source code for this will (I’m willing to take a wager), most likely, be closed.

Where OpenOffice.Org shines, is that it’s implementation of ODF is Open Source, and having an open reference implementation makes it relatively simple to write ODF applications that will remain compatible.

Microsoft is claiming that OpenXML will ensure backwards compatibility with the old DOC format(s), this sounds quite strange, Microsoft could have decided to build on ODF, and then make their own extensions.

So what is Microsoft’s motives. I believe that they have several:

  • Keep undocumented binary information in the documents that only Office 2007 will support.
  • New lock-in strategy, OpenXML will replace DOC as the default format, history shows that the users that have upgraded quite quickly will start sending documents in the new format, forcing the reciepients to upgrade.

It will be interesting to see that happens in the format wars. A good resource, somewhat biased towards ODF though, is the excellent Groklaw site.

For now ODF has a huge lead over OpenXML. Office 2007 has been delayed, and by the time it ships, it’s likely that ODF has been ratified by ISO. OpenXML is using the ECMA organisation to gain a fast track to ISO, and Microsoft has recently joined the ISO subcommittee that works with the ratification of document formats. It is estimated that OpenXML is at least 18 months behind ODF in the ratification process. According to C|NET, the ODFAlliance is optimistic that ODF can be certified as early as next month.

Personally I don’t think that Microsoft should be allowed to change the default format in Office, and remain a supplier of software to the Danish public sector.

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