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A Foundation for the New World of Documents

Published: July 5, 2006 | Updated: July 5, 2006

By Chris Capossela

This document provides Microsoft’s perspective on the future of document formats. We’ve been listening to our customers from around the world and we’ve heard loud and clear that document format interoperability is critically important. Microsoft is listening carefully to these concerns and taking action to meet customers’ interoperability needs by using the power and flexibility of XML in a way that allows customers to bring their existing documents into an XML-based world and benefit from significant advances in the future versions of our products.

The New World of Documents

Over the past decade, an important shift has taken place in the way people and organizations work with documents. More organizations are now relying on the electronic version of their documents rather than the printed version. Printed documents are still used for reading and annotating, but the value of working with the electronic document has increased dramatically thanks to the ability to secure, search, distribute, revise, back up and store electronic files.

Instead of updating documents by just cutting and pasting from different sources, people are starting to use connections to structured data sources to automatically update document contents with the latest information. Organizations deploy templates that guide authors through highly regulated or structured document processes that meet compliance or business requirements. Organizations also need to repurpose content for multiple uses. For example, you may want to take content from a word processing file and publish it to a Web site or e-mail it to a partner organization. Document formats must evolve to connect to structured data sources, to integrate with organizational workflows, and to be repurposed for multiple uses, to meet the changing needs of the work place.

The New Document Foundation: Open XML Formats

To respond to these needs, Microsoft has been investing heavily over the past decade to build native XML support into Microsoft® Office. With the 2007 Microsoft Office release, the Open XML formats become the default file format for Word, Excel® and PowerPoint®. This means all the features and functions of Office can be represented in XML and all your older Office documents can be moved from their binary formats into XML with 100 percent compatibility. We see our investment in XML support as the best way for us to meet customers’ interoperability needs while at the same time being compatible with the billions of documents that customers create every year.

Open XML Formats Are for Everyone to Use

We’ve made the Open XML file formats available for everyone to use. The file formats are simple standards-based XML text and are readable by a broad range of XML authoring and editing tools. We’ve applied a new intellectual property sharing approach to the file formats, which includes a Covenant Not To Sue (CNS) provision to assure software developers that they can use the file formats for free and without financial or intellectual property consideration toward Microsoft. We’ve also submitted the file formats along with other industry leaders for continued development and management by the Ecma International standards organization.

We hope and expect that millions of third-party developers around the world will build solutions using the Open XML file formats. Already, hundreds of thousands of developers are working with the XML capabilities of Microsoft Office. Any developer may use or join the OpenXMLDeveloper.org community to receive the latest information and participate in active code-sharing and experience-sharing opportunities.

Open XML Technology Meets the Most Demanding Customer Needs

There are over 450 million Microsoft Office customers who have created billions of documents. As a result, we have an obligation to meet a broad range of customer needs with our software and our Open XML formats that other vendors and XML file formats do not.

  • Open XML formats were developed to be fully compatible with Microsoft Office. This makes it easy to move all your Microsoft Office documents to the world of XML.

  • Open XML formats enable the full features of the 2007 Microsoft Office release and the scenarios of today’s workplace such as digitally securing and signing documents and routing documents for approval.

  • Open XML formats can be extended by customers to address particular scenarios, such as vertical industry requirements or organization-specific requirements. Open XML enables powerful integration of customers’ own XML data and formats within documents. It enables data interoperability rather than forcing customers to confine their use of XML to existing document schemas.

  • Open XML formats are optimized for fast performance. The syntax is intentionally sparse to enable much faster performance when saving and opening files than alternatives, so the end-user experience is the same easy-to-use Office experience millions of people are familiar with.

  • Microsoft has invested deeply in Microsoft Office to make it very accessible for disabled workers. Other vendors simply fall short on this dimension.

Supporting Multiple File Formats

Today, Microsoft Office supports multiple document formats including standards-based HTML and Rich Text Format (RTF). With the 2007 Microsoft Office release, we’ve added support for publishing in the PDF and XML Paper Specification (XPS) formats through free downloadable add-ins.

In addition, we’ve recently announced support for an open source project to create a format translation tool between Open XML and the OpenDocument Format (ODF). This translation tool will also be available via a free download. Although file translation may not result in perfect document fidelity because of format and product differences, it is the most effective way to offer interoperability in a world where multiple file formats will need to coexist.

Microsoft has also made extensive investments to make it easy for customers using older versions of Microsoft Office to take advantage of the new Open XML formats. Office 2000, Office XP and Office 2003 users can update their products free of charge through compatibility packs and tools, so that they will not be required to upgrade to get the benefits of using the new Open XML formats.

Meeting the Needs of Public Sector Organizations

Microsoft understands that government organizations have unique and demanding technology needs given the many complex rules and requirements to serve the public interest. Microsoft believes that Open XML formats can help with many of the challenges public sector organizations face for the reasons already articulated in this document.

Microsoft believes that public sector organizations have a lot to gain from the rapid evolution to open, XML-based documents. We encourage public sector organizations to move to XML file formats but not to mandate a particular format or implementation. There will be many different XML formats around the world, and organizations should be able to pick the right one for them based on the principles of choice, competition, interoperability and the value delivered for each project. We believe strongly that public sector organizations should keep their options open in the fast-paced area of XML innovation, with vendor-neutral purchasing policies that enable agencies to choose the most appropriate technology for their needs, while establishing guidelines for interoperability.

The Industry Opportunity

Microsoft believes that our investment in the Open XML document formats and the open approach we’ve taken toward embracing interoperability with other formats will benefit the entire industry. We’re excited to see the enormous early adoption of our product and our XML investments. We encourage you to explore the opportunities for your organization, and we’d be glad to help you along the way.