Feeds

Office 2013 to eat own file-format dog food

Microsoft decides to support its own spec at last

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

With the upcoming release of Office 2013, Microsoft is finally offering full support for the Open XML document standard, a format that Redmond itself created and has been promoting for nearly seven years.

"Microsoft continues to lead in giving customers choice and flexibility in file format standards and interoperability," writes Redmond's Jim Thatcher in a blog post announcing the change – although the actual history has been somewhat different.

The Open XML format has been the default document format for Microsoft's office suite since the release of Office 2007, where it is known by the familiar file name extensions .docx (for Word documents), .xlsx (for Excel spreadsheets), and .pptx (for PowerPoint presentations).

For years, Microsoft has been trumpeting that the Open XML formats are international open standards, having had them approved by both the Ecma International and ISO/IEC standards bodies.

So far, however, there has been one small problem. Although Open XML became an Ecma standard in 2006 and an ISO standard in 2008, Microsoft has never actually implemented it in the form in which it was standardized.

Instead, the Microsoft Office applications have saved documents in Transitional Open XML, a version of the ISO standard that is designed "to enable a transitional period during which existing binary documents being migrated to [Open XML] can make use of legacy features to preserve their fidelity."

That has been bad news for developers of other productivity software, such as the open source LibreOffice suite, who hoped the switch to XML-based formats would make it easier to maintain compatibility with Office documents.

To fully support Transitional Open XML, competing suites would have to implement all of the legacy features of Office, which would mean reverse engineering Microsoft's proprietary software.

Furthermore, until Office 2010, the Microsoft Office applications could only read Transitional Open XML documents, not ones written in the Strict Open XML dialect that does away with the legacy support requirements. Even Office 2010 cannot write Strict documents, making reliable document interchange between Office and competing suites impossible.

That changes with Office 2013, where according to Thatcher, all of the Office components will be able to read and write full Strict Open XML documents for the first time.

In addition, Microsoft has added support for the latest version of the competing XML document standard, Open Document Format (ODF) 1.2, as well as the ability to open PDF files as editable Word documents.

According to Andrew Updegrove, an attorney who consults clients on standardization issues, the move is an important milestone in the often contentious conflict between supporters of ODF and of Open XML, a battle which he says brought the importance of technical standards into public view for the first time.

"Only if documents can be easily exchanged and reliably accessed down ton an ongoing basis will competition in the present be preserved, and the availability of knowledge down through the ages be assured," Updegrove writes. "Without robust, universally adopted document formats, both of those goals will be impossible to attain." ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
KDE releases ice-cream coloured Plasma 5 just in time for summer
Melty but refreshing - popular rival to Mint's Cinnamon's still a work in progress
Leaked Windows Phone 8.1 Update specs tease details of Nokia's next mobes
New screen sizes, dual SIMs, voice over LTE, and more
Another day, another Firefox: Version 31 is upon us ALREADY
Web devs, Mozilla really wants you to like this one
Put down that Oracle database patch: It could cost $23,000 per CPU
On-by-default INMEMORY tech a boon for developers ... as long as they can afford it
Google shows off new Chrome OS look
Athena springs full-grown from Chromium project's head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.