The next version of Microsoft Office is going to rely on XML file formats. Anyone using Office 2000/2003 will be able to install an update that will support the new Microsoft format but upgrades are required. For those who are not using Microsoft Office, a new set of import filters will be needed to access files stored in this new format.

As a preemptive response, the state of Massachusetts has adopted the OpenDocument format. This is an extensible XML document format that has been developed with a steering committee that includes Adobe, Corel (WordPerfect), IBM and Sun. In addition, the open source is already capable of authoring documents in this format and it can be freely downloaded for anyone who needs access to OpenDocument files.

In stark contrast, Microsoft Office 12 has adopted a homebrew XML format for the next version of Office without any significant collaboration. As such, there will not be a consolidated effort to release tools or applications that can recognize Microsoft Office Open XML, and at least initially only users of Office 12 will be able to work with these file formats.

Industry pundit James Prendergast claims that Massachusetts is jeopardizing taxpayer dollars by migrating to the OpenDocument format. Ultimately, taxpayer dollars will need to be “wasted” to retool for Microsoft Office Open XML. Maybe we should avoid standardization and require that everyone is capable of reading every file format? Obviously, this is an unrealistic expectation. Organizations should be able to standardize on whatever formats they wish, and government should provide access to content in a documented format that can be easily accessed by its constituency.

Categories: Software