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08

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Open XML: the new Office document format

So we've been beavering away here at Intergen for a couple of months putting together a fantastic sample for Microsoft around OpenXML. It's basically a bolt in to Excel that lets you parse and process IIS log files. We'll be releasing it up to Codeplex soon, but, I'm looking for a few keen people to test it and give us some feedback now.

If you are a person who runs IIS and would like to have a look at the pre-release code, please post a comment and I'll get in touch.

It's been quite exciting working with the new Office Open XML file formats. Having kicked around in this industry for a while, I've seen quite an evolution in how I've dealt with generating documents. Where we once had to wrestle with crazy DDI APIs, we can now simply manipulate good ol’ text files. XML, simple and verbose as it is, is kind of a holy grail for document manipulation, as it means that we can do it with all the tools we've been using for internet based development for many years, while still maintaining document integrity using the meta-model support offered by XML schema. Office was never really geared up for automation on the server; it worked, but was dangerous, whereas smart developer folk can do server-side XML processing in their sleep.

The XML approach has a few key benefits as I see it:

  1. XML is easy to work with on ANY platform.
    We’ve got tooling to manipulate XML on pretty much every platform you can think of. From Windows to Linux to a Smartphone to the Microframework embedded devices we’re working with. The packaging format (basically it’s a ZIP file) is also broadly supported across most platforms.
  2. It’s X, as in eXtensible.
    This means that you can easily take the Open XML document and emit some of your own custom data into the document. This was possible in a few roundabout ways in Word in previous versions. But now we’ve got a common approach across all the Office tools, AND, because it’s an Open standard we should see much broader support from other vendors- e.g. there is Open XML support on the iPhone.
  3. It’s a standard (ECMA standard and submitted as an ISO standard).
    The best thing about Office Open XML being standardised is that changes will be far more predictable and controlled. If an ISV or integrator like Intergen, or a government department commits to building tooling to manipulate documents they have some reassurance that it’s not going to be obsolete when Microsoft (or some other dominant market player) decides to change their proprietary format. It’s unrealistic to assume that there can ever be *one* document format for all applications - we have ODF, PDF, HTML and countless other formats available already. For me the key benefit of standardisation is that it allows smaller companies like ours to enter the market with confidence that they are not subject to the whim of the dominant player.

Posted by: Chris Auld, Chief Technology Officer, Executive Director | 08 August 2007

Tags: Open XML, XML


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