Explanation of upcoming MS Office 12 "open" file formats

Posted:
in Mac Software edited January 2014
I've been trying to understand the implications of everything that I've been reading on the Web lately about the soon-to-be-adopted file formats for the upcoming MS Office 12. Unfortunately, everything I've been able to find has been over my head technically. I'm hoping that some of the more savvy members of the forums here can help me make sense of the upcoming developments. This is my understanding...



It sounds like MS is working with other companies to make the .doc, .xls, and .ppt file formats open and accessible to others. Consequently, other programs will not have to rely on importing/translating the formerly proprietary formats into the programs' respective native formats. In effect, a .doc document will be as ubiquitous and unviersally accessible as a .rtf document. Moreover, efforts are being made to ensure that the upcoming standard are backwards-compatible with older MS Office document formats, addressing the concern that companies with 20+ years of .doc files will be able to upgrade without hassles.



For Mac users, therefore, Pages will be able to read/write .doc files natively and seamlessly, even if it was created on a Windows PC using MS Word 2000 and has footnotes, tables, and electronic comments.



Is that basically what the goal is? If so, why did MS agree to such an arrangement? I have read that MS Office has acheived virtual saturation of the market for enterprise software -- over 80 or 90% marketshare, I think. Won't opening the .doc, .xls, and .ppt specs to other programs invariably diminish this? As an Apple user, the only reason I use Word at all is to avoid file compatibility issues with professors, professionals, etc. (As much as I don't like proprietary formats, the .doc stanard is widely used in the legal profession). I know others use features like Track Changes and Electronic Commenting. If other programs could provide actual feature parity, what incentive is there to by MS Office?



Finally, if the Office 12 formats are intended to be as open as I understand them (a big if, I know), why isn't it bigger news? Being something of a nerd, I read technical blogs and try to stay abreast of developments in certain fields. Are there drawbacks, caveats, or potential disadvantages that are not apparent at first glance?

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    gongon Posts: 2,437member
    They want the development benefits that come from XML and the appearance of being open. To further prop that appearance, I can see them allowing full compatibility in small, proprietary "competing" products that are not a real threat for them. They will not let, for instance, OpenOffice.org have full compatibility. The so-called open format contains proprietary binary blocks for things like styling, so if anyone tries to build full compatibility without Microsoft approval, they will drop a copyright/patent/whatever lawsuit on that party like a ton of bricks.
  • Reply 2 of 12
    gongon Posts: 2,437member
    Open Document Format is the really open choice. If Microsoft was serious about allowing interoperability, they'd build in ODF support. Of course they won't, since that move would place Office and everything else on equal footing, and Microsoft would lose most of the income of the Office division as they had to compete hard both on price and quality. The only thing they have in Office that stands out is the spreadsheet, and not that many people need a full-fledged spreadsheet.
  • Reply 3 of 12
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Gon

    The so-called open format contains proprietary binary blocks for things like styling, so if anyone tries to build full compatibility without Microsoft approval, they will drop a copyright/patent/whatever lawsuit on that party like a ton of bricks.



    Okay, but as I read over this Office 12 blog, it looks like MS is signing a covenant not to sue.



    Quote:

    The 'Covenant Not to Sue' (CNS) Approach for the License



    Q. Why did Microsoft take this approach?



    It was a simple, clear way to reassure a broad audience of developers and customers, within a rapidly changing licensing environment, that the formats could be used without constraint forever.



    We looked at many different types of licensing approaches that would recognize the legitimacy of intellectual property but would make it clear that the intellectual property in the OpenXML document formats would be available freely, now and forever.



    This makes it sound as though the threat of a lawsuit is foreclosed by the agreement MS is entering into.



    Furthermore, the same blog states that



    Quote:

    [t]he Ecma process is completely open under the organization's rules and procedures.



    Ecma International in a well-recognized standards organization with a track record of producing high-quality standards for the industry for over 40 years. The OpenXML effort will have a startup process that is similar to many other standards efforts in that it will begin with specific baseline requirements to set a well-understood and supported foundation.



    I found this FAQ to be very persuasive. Opening the format seems like it will allow the substitution of MS Word for any word processor without a hitch while maintaining backwards compatibility. That shounds great to me, but the explanation given by MS in the blog that it will protect companies' investments in their documents doesn't make sense to me. Couldn't MS protect their documents just as well by maintaining the closed, proprietary format and still pocket the billions of Office revenue? There given explanation seems flimsy.
  • Reply 4 of 12
    mr. memr. me Posts: 3,221member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by acollins

    ....

    I found this FAQ to be very persuasive....




    Microsoft double-speak. In pursuing this strategy, Microsoft hopes to keep the world tied to its formats. This is Animal Farm. Sure, WordPerfect, Word Pro, OpenOffice, Pages, and TextEdit may have equal access to Word 12's formats, but Word 12's access will be more equal than the others. And because you can be assured that Word 12 will not read Open Document files, the genuine open format and the applications that support it will have more difficulty getting traction.
  • Reply 5 of 12
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Mr. Me

    Microsoft double-speak. In pursuing this strategy, Microsoft hopes to keep the world tied to its formats. This is Animal Farm. Sure, WordPerfect, Word Pro, OpenOffice, Pages, and TextEdit may have equal access to Word 12's formats, but Word 12's access will be more equal than the others. And because you can be assured that Word 12 will not read Open Document files, the genuine open format and the applications that support it will have more difficulty getting traction.



    That's distressing. So really, you think that the new open standard will merely result in more of the same - word processors that can read/write to the .doc format that is 90% accurate, but where compatibility is essential, people are still going to have no choice but to use the Microsoft offerings.



    Is there something that skeptics point to that substantiates this concern, or is it just based on MS's track record in being open with the community?
  • Reply 6 of 12
    telomartelomar Posts: 1,804member
    You guys are entirely too paranoid. Microsoft went for their approach for two reasons. First due to increasing concern that files could be permanently lost if there weren't open formats. Second so Microsoft had control. If Microsoft went for ODF they'd have to work with other people. At the end of the day Microsoft can tailor their format to work with the rest of their products and everybody else can work around it while Microsoft has years of seamless interoperability. The format is still open but there are some benefits in choosing the design.
  • Reply 7 of 12
    mr. memr. me Posts: 3,221member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Telomar

    You guys are entirely too paranoid. Microsoft went for their approach for two reasons. First due to increasing concern that files could be permanently lost if there weren't open formats. Second so Microsoft had control. If Microsoft went for ODF they'd have to work with other people. At the end of the day Microsoft can tailor their format to work with the rest of their products and everybody else can work around it while Microsoft has years of seamless interoperability. The format is still open but there are some benefits in choosing the design.



    Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean nobody's out to get you. The bottomline is that Microsoft is being Microsoft. In the Microsoft context, seamless interoperability is strictly a marketing phrase. Have you ever exchanged documents between two versions of Office:win? Just for educational purposes, exchange documents from both versions with Office:mac. When I did it, I found that Office:mac worked well with either Office:win format, but that the Office:win versions didn't work well with each other. What is the point? The point is that Microsoft gives you only as much interoperability as is required to sell product. On the Mac, users buy Office almost exclusively for its interoperability with Windows users. Office:mac can open and edit virtually every Office document ever created. On Windows, Microsoft wants users to buy new copies of Office. There, interoperability is not so good.
  • Reply 8 of 12
    I know that, thus far, exchanging Office files between various verions/platforms has not worked as advertised. But also MS has been the only company developing the standard. It seems that there are lots of companies that are collaborating on this new XML format. Won't that limit the ability of MS to criple the exchangeability of the documents? Is the concern that MS will build a lack of compliance within Office 12 and then rely on its degree of market penetration to force people to stay with Office and not explore other options?



    If that were the case, I would have thought it would have been easier for MS to just release a new XML format for Office 12 without going through all the hassle of collaborating with everyone under the sun.
  • Reply 9 of 12
    mr. memr. me Posts: 3,221member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by acollins

    I know that, thus far, exchanging Office files between various verions/platforms has not worked as advertised. But also MS has been the only company developing the standard. It seems that there are lots of companies that are collaborating on this new XML format. Won't that limit the ability of MS to criple the exchangeability of the documents? Is the concern that MS will build a lack of compliance within Office 12 and then rely on its degree of market penetration to force people to stay with Office and not explore other options?



    If that were the case, I would have thought it would have been easier for MS to just release a new XML format for Office 12 without going through all the hassle of collaborating with everyone under the sun.




    The collaborative open format is Open Document Format (ODF). Microsoft is pushing a competing format, OpenXML. Microsoft does not support ODF. Microsoft would rather not make OpenXML available to other vendors, but it was faced with institutional and legal mandates for open formats. When given lemons, Microsoft makes lemonade. Microsoft has thwarted the open format legal mandate in Massachusetts by offering up OpenXML. You believe that by releasing OpenXML, Microsoft is collaborating with others. It is not doing that at all--well, at least not nearly to the extent that the ODF group is collaborating with each other. OpenXML is Microsoft's format. You take it as best you can or you leave it.
  • Reply 10 of 12
    mdriftmeyermdriftmeyer Posts: 7,502member
    Are Microsoft making their Schemas public?
  • Reply 11 of 12
    telomartelomar Posts: 1,804member
    It isn't open if it isn't public. They will have it published as a standard for anybody to adopt.
  • Reply 12 of 12
    gene cleangene clean Posts: 3,481member
    It isn't standard if it isn't public. And public means open to anyone, as regulated by the standards comittee.
Sign In or Register to comment.