Avoid OOXML for now?

Interesting post here from Bob Sutor. He suggests that it might be worth holding off using Ms Office XML file formats until any changes required to get through the ISO process are sorted.

I’m using 2007 compatibility edition (Office 2003) anyway so it doesn’t bother me. I just delete attachments sent in the 2007 format, or ask the sender to use an industry standard format (ie 2003, or Open Office).

As a matter of good communication I think stuff should be communicated in the most common/open format that supports the features you need. For me thats RTF for my cv and other Word type docs, and 2003 .xls for spreadsheets.

I think the xml formats are handy if you are picking them apart or constructing them using a non Office app eg on a web server. They are too bloated to send around (about 30-50% bigger than a zipped .xls).

I was expecting to get shouted off Office Zealot in the run up to the ISO meeting by all the ooxml noise, thats what happened when they went for ECMA. It doesn’t seem to have built up the same momentum yet – give it a couple of weeks.

On a related note, I wonder if getting bounced by ECMA has delayed Office 14? The rumours were that it would be out mid 2009. I would have thought there might be some limited releases soon if they are to have a similar beta program to 2007, and hit Q2/3 2009. I can imagine them delaying any beta until they know what the file format needs to be, what do you think?

Are you using 2007 MSOOXML formats?

Also do you think the default blocking of certain file formats in 2003 SP3 (which goes on auto update soon btw) will help their cause at ISO?



4 Responses to “Avoid OOXML for now?”

  1. Harlan Grove Says:

    Last point first: since there’s a lot more malicious content that could be stored in an Excel 2003 .XLS file than any of the file formats SP3 blocks (even than 1-2-3’s .WK4 format since it can’t contain VBA code, and Excel doesn’t run macros), I don’t think anyone should take claims that this is a security measure too seriously. If security were the primary concern, why not block .XLS files and make use of XML files mandatory? Also, it’s a wee bit too convenient that the file formats blocked by SP3 just happen to be the same ones Excel 2007 doesn’t support at all.

    As for whether this helps with ISO, I can’t see how this would change anything for those who support OOXML, and I suspect those who oppose OOXML have views similar to mine about the too conveniently self-serving nature of SP3 ‘secutiry measures’.

    As for OOXML, the spec submitted to ISO was already different than what’s in use in Office 2007, and it’d have to change further given the thousands of comments from the participating national bodies. Therefore, if you save lots of files in .XLS{X|M} formats, you’ll need to convert them to compliant OOXML when and if it becomes an ISO standard *or* KNOWINGLY AND DELIBERATELY continue to use a nonstandard XML format.

    That’s the option the pro-ODF/anti-OOXML fanatics don’t consider: most Office 2007 users may choose to use nonstandard .DOCX, .XLSX, etc file formats and not give much if any thought to international standards. Since it’s XML, it WILL be possible to extract data from such files in future as long as there are computers that can parse arbitrary XML. It may not be possible to recreate the original formatting, and embedded binary blobs may be unusable, but text/cell contents will be available.

  2. Simon Says:

    Harlan, I was being facetious on the blocking point.
    I thought the whole point of ‘open’ file formats was to enable access long into the future. Blocking access to a ton of important info in the run up to ISO seems like a major blunder to me.

    I agree the ‘security’ excuse is a stretch. I actually think its cost cutting.
    By avoiding having to fix old code, just so people can access old data, they can devote those resources to bigger, more clumsy, more resource intensive UI features. Or come in under budget and get a decent bonus.

  3. Stephane Rodriguez Says:

    “Since it’s XML, it WILL be possible to extract data from such files in future as long as there are computers that can parse arbitrary XML.”

    When it’s well designed XML,yes. When it’s just angle brackets around elements with semantics barely specified, it’s a different thing. Case : imagine what VML will become, and how angle brackets will “make it easier to move this beast around”. Answer : Microsoft just probably changes the namespace, and call it a massive change (as they do right now at ISO). You’ll get all the bugs and quirks and limitations and everything else there. But of course it will be XML, so it will be great.

    You are right that users don’t even figure out they are working with .xlsx files instead of .xls. They just recognize what happens when they double-click on a file. As long as it opens, they couldn’t care less.

    PS : some of the binary blobs of .XLS are moved over .XLSX(M) as is. They are not XML.

    There is nothing that you can do in XML that you can’t do with binary files. That Microsoft decided to surf on XML goodwill is one thing. That Microsoft formats completely disqualifies as a good XML citizen is just as important. Jon Bozak, XML co-inventor, was quite clear about why good citizens use XML. XML is used for agreed-upon syntax and semantics.

    The support for binary files by independent applications is much more available, richer and compatible than the new formats. What we are talking about people out there spending time supporting this thing which is really the same thing internally (just wrapped differently), rather than doing anything creative in Office related file formats : application level, document level.

    Oh and of course, you can’t add your own XML within Microsoft spreadsheet’s XML (placeholders, markers, …). It automatically corrupts the file…

  4. Marcus Says:

    I still see the irony in that regardless of all the hoopla about XML being (or becoming) the default standard, I still see more CSV files being used in data transfers than anything else.

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