There is a running gag in the Simpsons where, in a flashback, Homer or someone will boldly predict something wildly wrong: 8 track tapes will never die,, that kind of thing. I was reminded of this type of gag today when reading an Slashdot thread from 2004 entitled “Is the new Microsoft Office really open?” It relates to Office 11, but it is interesting to note what rabidly anti-Microsoft people were demanding at that time, and their expectations of getting it.
- In summary ‘Microsoft says it’s opening its Office desktop software by adding support for XML–a move that should help companies free up access to shared information. But there’s a catch: It has yet to disclose the underlying XML dialect.’ Could this be grounds for another anti-trust suit against Microsoft?”
- Of course it isn’t open. It’s a silly question. Open is EVIL. Actually open would eliminate advantages. People would be able to create their own tools to interact with documents, instead of with MS tools. Where’s the money in that?
- The move to XML has the potential to eliminate that sort of brain damage once and for all provided they actually open their file formats.
- But they can make it so massively complex that it is very difficult to implement interoperability with foreign tools, but that it is somehow much easier to implement with MS-centric tools. … So maybe the XML format will be like that. If you’re Linux-centric, for instance, the threshold of pain for accessing Word XML docs will be fairly high, but if you’re Microsoft-centric, with all of their tools, code-snippets, documents, etc., then it won’t be nearly as painful.
- …even if they use absurdly complex element names,…
- As long as MS is effectively a monopoly XML will be whatever they say it is, for the majority of people.
- Of course, most people won’t use the XML format at all, since it won’t be the default.
- Even if a language is in XML, you still need to *document it* to be able to *understand* it.
- Well if the way Microsoft Word saves out as HTML is anything to go by, then concise it most definitely will not be.
- I suppose they could put some weird binary or encrypted data in the files, but that would defeat the purpose of XML.
- That being said, it’s hard to see what business the government has engineering document formats. They could, on the other hand, specify disclosure of formats as a remedy in an anti-trust case, but they generally fall into one of two categories which precludes this: stupid or bought.
- It’s not “obfuscated” so much as it’s “optimized.” The whole idea seems to be for Word to save as quickly as possible–which the doc file is best at for Word for some reason, probably becuase it’s derived from how the program structures documents, and not how some document spec says documents should be handled.
In an era of 2+ GHz computers with 7200+ rpm hard drives, it seems odd that Microsoft would be unable to write an application than can quickly save and open text files that, on average, run well under 50 kilobytes.
- The big question (to me) is whether Microsoft can put a legal encumbrance on the XML schema they use for a new file format. Could you publish a schema but have it so wrapped in legalese that (for example) open source projects could not be allowed to use it ?
- So, is this going to be XML like the rest of the world knows it, or is it going to be an embrace and extend XML? Or, could it be a mutant XML? How about an XML that makes reference to Windows specific resources IDs?
- Adoption of a “standard” is no guarantee of interoperability. Understanding the conceptual underpinnings of the standard is just as important. The question is, when Microsoft says they are using XML as a document format, are they doing it because they believe in the principles underlying it, or solely for the cynical “this is what is selling now” aspect?
- The Office file formats will be open if M$ decides to:
* Document them, and
* Not change them with every update.
I doubt they will do either of those things.
- They simply have no reason to play nice in an industry consortium to agree on a DTD/Schema when they have 90% market share. But as long as they publish the details of their Schema and don’t leave chunks of encoded COM schwag lying all over the place it doesn’t matter. Of course, we all know the likelihood of that happening.
- Something in my gut tells me that beyond all the extraneous tags, attributes and data types, the XML is going to have a hash code built into it.
- For an XML language to be open, you need a full description of what each possible construct in that language means.
- It would be quite easy to make the M$ document xml format propriatry. Make all default generated documents have linked in components like some ActiveX HTML pages. You might be able to read the base parts of the document but that won’t make it very userful without M$.
If the XML files office produce are not made the default save types or if the XML merely encapsulates large portions of binary code, it will not matter one lick that office can save these xml documents because the majority of people will be stuck on the default, unreadable formats.
And so on…ratbags and survivalists: a bitter cup but with a few drops of sweeetness from such as Liam Quinn plonked in. So lets suppose the Masters of the Four-Paned Beast capitulated and gave these Knights of the Slashed Dot pretty much everything they were calling for: we would get a requirements list along the lines of:
- Open up: use XML with no extensions
- Open up: provide copious documentation
- Open up: don’t require MS-specific tools for processing; allow people to make their own tools
- Open up: don’t use long element names
- Open up: make it the default save format for Office
- Open up: use real XML, don’t just wrap binary or encrypted sections in XML tags
- Open up: don’t have legal encumbrances on use
- open up: don’t have defaults that use (or require) COM or embedded objects or anything MS platform-proprietary.
- Do have some stability to the format: don’t have a lot of updates
- optimization is OK
- integration with the deeper “conceptual underpinnings” of XML is important
It strikes me that this is almost exactly a description of the direction that MS then took with Open XML. The Slashdotters don’t know they won, (or at least that in 2007 they would get what they were asking for in 2004.) …Perhaps in 2010 they may get what they are demanding in 2007! “Doh!”