Microsoft has officially opened the schema to their Office File Formats. This is huge news.
Of course, not as big as you think.
See, they’re not opening the format out of sheer altruism and kindness (surprised?) but to begin to comply with purchasing requirements outlined by certain government organizations.
A Techworld story cites the state (commonwealth?) of Massachusetts’ policy:
Massachusetts has already instituted a software purchasing policy designed to increase competition between open source and proprietary software, and is planning to extend its policy to particular formats. Microsoft formats are likely to be included in the list of “open formats” supported by the policy, Eric Kriss, Massachusetts’ secretary of administration and finance, told attendees at a Friday meeting of the Massachusetts Software Council.
So now, the data contained in unstructured documents can be shared more easily. That said, from an end user’s perspective the ability to share data between Microsoft and other office-compatible applications is not really the problem – applications like Open Office do a pretty good job of allowing people to read and edit MS Office docs. The sticky problem for users is the ability to maintain the formatting of documents.
For instance, Open Office does a decent job of opening Word and PowerPoint documents, but the formatting gets all funky (a technical term), requiring the user to reformat the entire document before printing. And that reformatting may not look acceptable when opened again in the equivalent Microsoft application.
But, like web browsers, developers can now spend their time on the rendering and formatting engines rather than trying to simultaneously figure out the data structure and then render the correct formatting. At least it’s a step in the right direction.