Open Office Data Formats Could Enable Innovation
But Microsoft must keep its promise and become truly open, says Forrester analyst
By Andy Patrizio
January 1, 2006 —
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News that Microsoft plans to use XML-based file formats in Office 12 and submit the formats to the Ecma International vendor consortium to start them on the road to standardization should be greeted with cautious optimism. So says one analyst who has followed the company and its battles with the state of Massachusetts.
Kyle McNabb, senior analyst at Forrester Research, said Microsofts plans to standardize the file formats is a positive move for everyone, but suggested keeping an eye on Microsoft. We tell our clients, Make sure Microsoft follows through with its commitment to make it a truly independent, open standard, and that would include [that] theres no proprietary aspects to the standard at all, he said.
The company first announced that Office would use XML as its data file format at its Professional Developers Conference in September. In November, the company said it would open the file formats by submitting them to Ecma, which would develop the documentation and make it available to the industry.
In September, Massachusetts mandated use of only nonproprietary document formats in state-affiliated offices, effective Jan. 1, 2007. The state went so far as to specify which formats it would use: Adobes PDF and the Open Document Format for Office Applications, or OpenDocument.
The state has backed off on this specificity, which McNabb said went too far, since OpenDocument has barely any presence in the industry. An industry standard needs two things: A standards body needs to say its a standard, and it needs to be adopted. OpenDocument is not pervasive yet.
Instead, Massachusetts is giving Microsofts Open XML plans its blessing. Gov. Mitt Romney recently issued a statement saying, The commonwealth is very pleased with Microsofts progress in creating an open document format. If Microsoft follows through as planned, we are optimistic that Office Open XML will meet our new standards for acceptable open formats.
Office has supported XML since Office 2000 but not very well. Only now is the XML specification ripe enough for use as an alternative to the binary data file formats, said Alan Yates, general manager of information worker business strategy at Microsoft.