Brian is in a unique position of being a TC-45 member and Microsoft employee, and his post really illustrates how much work has to go into the Ecma efforts around ISO standardization. I’ve been in the trenches with Brian on file formats for quite a while now; I’ve seen how hard the work is. I am always happy to applaud my fellow Buckeye fans, especially when they work so hard to carry the ball forward on Open XML and interoperability.
If you didn’t see Brian’s post, it’s worth a read before you proceed here. In essence, it says that Microsoft will adjust the existing binary format program so that the documentation will be available directly from the Web, and offered under the Open Specification Promise. It goes on to say that Microsoft has committed to sponsoring a binary to Open XML conversion tool as an Open Source project. These developments are a response to national body comments on Open XML in the ISO/IEC standardization process.
It’s important to recognize that binary format documents are important digital assets. This conversion project is important because it effectively makes the conversion of documents in binary formats to Open XML even simpler by providing a reference implementation that can be reused. It also provides more options for people to transition from binary to Open XML formats, with or without Office.
In addition, the OSS project will make it even easier for an array of products that currently support the binaries to transition to a more developer-friendly XML format. If you believe the OSS model, you’ll agree that offering the source code for converting binary documents to open xml documents will hopefully stimulate a community of software products that will perform this valuable service. I think of the scores of content management software providers who implement the current binary formats, who are faced with a question of what to do about file formats… happy about Open XML because they get an easier file format to develop, questioning what the best way is to go about beginning a transition. Having a reference implementation will provide an easier starting place in the transition process.
Adobe, Sun and IBM already have received our binary file format specifications for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Each of these companies currently ship products which support .DOC, .XLS, or .PPT. (For example, Adobe Acrobat includes a “Save as .DOC” feature, StarOffice, Notes, and other applications support the existing binaries). The OSS project should provide them with an additional mechanism to understand how to convert binary to Open XML (and subsequently translate between XML formats if they choose), but also handle the binary formats in other applications. Many, many other companies have also licensed the formats.
In the end, these announcements are really a “rising tide” for everyone interested in file formats. It benefits our partners, standards participants, competitors, and hopefully answers a lot of national body comments as well.