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MS Office and Open Formats

Dwight Silverman on Microsoft’s plan to offer more robust XML support:

Traditionally, the formats in which Microsoft Office’s applications have saved documents have been proprietary. That means that only Microsoft’s own applications can be guaranteed to render those documents the way their creators intended them to be seen. Other programs, such as Corel’s WordPerfect or OpenOffice, can only approximate the correct display and behavior for Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Access documents.

But by switching to an open-standard format, suddenly any application that can handle XML can correctly display an Office document, and add data to it.

Document files in the new format will actually be compiled using the common Zip compression scheme. Inside the Zip file — and yes, you’ll be able to change the extension on the file to .ZIP and look inside — will be all the pieces, including the XML component.

This is certainly good news and probably means that Open Office can make better MS Word filters. However, it begs the question of whether office applications are still relevant anymore. As a tech writer I use MS Word for certain legacy applications, but most of my documentation work involves working on corporate content management systems, email applications, web forms (such as my weblog!) and simple text editors like Notepad Light. That leaves spreadsheets (which I use often) and PowerPoint (which I use rarely, and the next time I do, I’ll probably use S5

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