Microsoft has been and continues to be fully committed to opening its document formats for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Interoperability is not new to Office, and Open XML is part of a much broader strategy around interoperability for Office. When we look at the past three years of document format related investments, you’ll see this shining through; we’ve done quite a lot. Different circumstances led to each of these activities, but as a collection of work, the intent is unmistakable, and despite claims to the contrary, we’re highly motivated to ensure that we can participate in an open environment. These are all steps toward openness, which is good for us, good for our customers and good for the industry.
Brian Jones has covered the history of the formats and XML support for Office in a prior post, there is a significant amount of ground covered in his post.
Let’s take a look at what has happened:
- Binary File Format Program – It’s amazing that many Open XML opponents today claim that the binary formats for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, “aren’t available.” The first license grant that I can track happened in 2003. Among the companies who have licensed the formats are Sun, Adobe and IBM. If you’re interested in getting these specifications, go here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/840817/en-us
- Covenant not to Sue for XML reference schemas – http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/products/HA102134631033.aspx?pid=CL100796341033. The covenant was issued to allay IP concerns regarding the adoption of the 2003 XML reference schemas for WordProcessingML and SpreadsheetML. The covenant makes any Microsoft patents required to implement these schemas available to anyone to implement them – and no fee is charged. The Covenant was extended to Open XML when it was submitted to Ecma for standardization.
- Open XML Announced at TechEd 2005 – After much deliberation with analysts and customers, Microsoft announced the transition away from binary and the inclusion of Open XML in June of 2005, at the TechEd conference (this was one of the first major activities I completed at Microsoft). We treated this very carefully, as we knew from the Office ’97 launch that changing file formats in Office is a hard thing to do. The transition was important for a lot of reasons. Open XML offers a lot of new opportunities for the Office ecosystem, and it helps our customers and partners get better interoperability with the document formats. We hash and re-hash the benefits a lot, but when you boil it down to its essence, this is what we’re really after.
- PDF for Office 2007 (including PDF/A) – In October of 2005, Microsoft announced support for saving PDF documents within Office, including files that support the ISO standard PDF/A. If you’ve never encountered PDF/A, it was among the first ISO-ratified PDF standards (variations of PDF/X were first) intended to improve document archival.
- Submission of Open XML to Ecma International and ISO – In November of 2005, Microsoft announced the submission of the Open XML formats to Ecma International for Standardization.
- Open XML Developer.org, Open XML Community.org – In support of Open XML adoption, we elected to offer a developer portal that was outside our traditional MSDN developer channel. Open XML Developer is a portal for the Open XML community to share information. It is outside of MSDN because some community members would prefer to conduct their business somewhere other than Microsoft.com. Open XML Community.org is another web property that is designed to illustrate the overwhelmingly strong traction the formats have received in a short period of time. Many Open XML adopters have taken the time to add contributions to the site.
- Office compatibility Pack for Open XML formats – In November 2006, Microsoft released the first version of the compatibility pack for Microsoft Office. This add-in allows users of Office 2000, XP and 2003 to read and write Open XML formats for free. We created this add-in to retrofit Open XML support into prior releases, to ease the pain of transitioning file formats that we experienced in the Office 97 change. This add-in has been downloaded more than 20 million times, and is in widespread use today.
- Office File Scanning & Conversion tools – Early in 2007 came the release of the Office Migration Planning Manager for Office 2007, we introduced two very important tools for managing a transition to XML-based formats: The Office File Scanning tool and Office File Conversion tool. The file scanning tool scans machines for the presence of different file formats, examining for age, presence of DRM & Macros and other criteria. The reports generated by the file scanning tool can be used as the basis for the Office File Conversion tool, which converts Word, Excel and PPT binary to Open XML.
- Open Specification Promise for Open XML formats – Based on feedback we got about the CNS and because of the growing significance of interoperability, we introduced a new Open Specification Promise to give implementers of our published specifications more reasons not to worry about any Microsoft patents required to implement the Open XML specs. Open XML is offered under this promise, to ensure there is no ambiguity in our commitment to allowing others to implement the spec. My favorite phrase in the OSP (that seems to have been ‘accidentally’ over looked by most Open XML opponents): “In connection with the specifications listed below, this Promise also applies to the required elements of optional portions of such specifications.”
- ODF Translator – The growing relevance of the ISO standard ODF was an opportunity for us to improve our interoperability approach in Office. But ODF didn’t come without its challenges. Adding ODF support to Microsoft Office was always going to be tricky; we would either be accused of “embrace and extend” for adding custom extensions for all the stuff that was missing from the spec (spreadsheet formulas or presentation tables, for example), or we would build a translator that didn’t move everything from Open XML to ODF, again setting us up for an accusation of hindering ODF. We took the decision to conduct that activity in an open source environment. This allowed us to accomplish a few things: First, we could sponsor the implementation of ODF in a public forum to allow for public examination / comment BEFORE the tool shipped. If anything was not being implemented satisfactorily, it could be noted and corrected. The OSS effort for the ODF Translator also allowed us to sponsor an OSS project that facilitated document translation between Open XML and something else. Early on in the life span of Open XML, this was an important activity to jump-start adoption. To date, the ODF translator is not in widespread use (the ODF Translator for Word has been downloaded ~225,000 times compared to the 20 Million for the Open XML compatibility pack), but we’d expect that the translator activity to be commensurate with interest in ODF in our customer base.
- UOF Translator – Much like the ODF Translator (and DAISY translator below), we sponsored the Open XML to UOF translator in an OSS environment because we wanted to ensure we had appropriate industry cooperation in implementing the specification.
- Microsoft Office Isolated Conversion Environment (MOICE) – MOICE is a tool based on the compatibility pack for Office, and is designed to facilitate document conversions to Open XML in a shielded process. This will protect a system against malformed binary documents and silently convert them to Open XML before they are opened in an application. The tool is available for IT administrators to deploy in high-security environments, and is available as a manual download from Microsoft.com (READ: Conspiracy theorists, we don’t push that download to anyone’s machine, it’s a manual, opt-in download, just like the compatibility pack.)
- DAISY Translator – Of all the software projects I’ve ever been involved with, this is one that I get pretty warm and fuzzy about. Working at a company this size, we tend to look at macro-scale events and enablement. But with the DAISY Translator work that we’ve undertaken with the DAISY Consortium, we’re reaching out directly to a specific community of users, and providing functionality for Office that they’ve wanted for a very, very long time. This work directly benefits people; this isn’t about politics, positioning or anything else. This is pure up-side for the users of our products, and it is something that a lot of people feel very, very good about.
- Binary document conversion – Microsoft recently announced its intent to sponsor an Open-Source software development project to enable the conversion of binary documents to Open XML documents, making it even easier to migrate off the old binaries. At the same time we also announced that the existing binary format program will be available on the web and that Microsoft binary formats will be offered under the Open Specification Promise.
So, no matter how you look at it, or which nits you’d want to pick (correct or not), this is a long list of advancements that really illustrate how much we have moved forward on openness and interoperability with respect to document formats in the Office products. Hopefully I don’t have to write a grand conclusion, the data here should speak for itself. Let’s just say that the commitment to openness here is evident and unquestionable.