It’s just data

Open Office Wars, part 3

Simon St. LaurentFor some reason, news.com seems hung up on the issue of what schema Microsoft is using. News.com doesn't seem to grasp that you can do lots of things with XML with or without a schema, and perhaps the most powerful feature of Office 11 is that you can use it to process documents using your own schemas, applying Microsoft's tools to formats you (not Microsoft!) control directly. 

I still think there are two sides to this story.  On one side, the ability of MS tools to adapt to formats that users can describe will be an incredible step forward.  On the other hand, this doesn't explain an unwillingness to working with others to describe the semantics that PowerPoint 11 uses to capture a pie chart.

See also parts 1 and 2.


Given especially that PowerPoint 11 has no XML features at all, I agree with that thought. Fortunately, I haven't used PowerPoint in years, except to give someone else's presentation, and I can't say PowerPoint data is really at the heart of things I want to free from Microsoft's binary formats.

Also worth noting is Paul Prescod's comment:

http://lists.xml.org/archives/xml-dev/200212/msg00488.html

Finally, it may be a lot easier for the OASIS TC to get something done when they're united against the 800-pound gorilla than when the 800-pound gorilla is in the room making demands, but that's definitely up to them. I can't say that's something I'd wish for personally.

Posted by Simon St.Laurent at

Like Paul Prescod, I never thought I'd see the day that I was defending Microsoft ... but they have an AWFULLY good argument here: OASIS says "standardize on the One True Office Schema." MS says "Use whatever schema you want and edit it with Word/Excel/XDocs".

Simon, did you get the impression that PPT will not have XML support, or that they just hadn't gotten it in this beta? If the latter, I would imagine that they'll do like they do in Visio -- support SVG.

I'm a bit baffled ... in the past I always thought I knew which hand MS had the knife in and how they planned to stab us in the back with it while we were distracted by the FUD and BS. I can't keep track of how they are going to use Office 11 against us. Jean Paoli was telling people that they had been working on this for 3 years; maybe, just maybe, it's from some time-warp in which they thought that they were going get their butt kicked by the DoJ and had to clean up their act and win by implementing standards better than anyone else does. Stranger things have happened!

What happened to the "bias for action"? I would think that the question of standardized Office document formats is dead; the challenge for those who want mindshare in the office application space is to support editing of XML documents, data, and forms better than MS actually does. MS wants to do this with fat-client, expensively licensed apps; let's see if some good 80/20 point can be hit by those who can help people do it in the browser (XForms?), open source (OpenOffice?), or "best of breed" (e.g. Corel's stuff they got from buying SoftQuad).

Posted by Mike Champion at

Mike, if the assertion is made that the user can "Use whatever schema you want", then I simply suggest that the test of that assertion is whether or not Office does anything reasonable with the schema that Open Office uses.

To me, the statement that the notion of a standardized Office document is dead is roughly equivalent to saying that there is no need for SVG - after all it is simply another application of (pick your favorite brand of) schema, right?

Wrong. We are talking at different metalevels. Schemas capture rich lexical structure. There still are many different and incompatible ways to express a given semantic.

P.S. Re: "bias for action". Pretty much without exception all the individuals I have had the pleasure of getting to know who work for Microsoft are the epitome of such a sentiment.

Posted by Sam Ruby at

Sam,
You're wrong. However having not seen Word 11, Excel 11 and the rest in action I don't blame you for being cynical. Simon, Mike and others on XML-DEV were just as cynical a few weeks ago when the reports started coming out but they've since then seen what we are going to ship by being at XML 2002.

Since the XML 2002 presentations we've released a bunch of white papers and screenshots which should further show how moot your point is at http://www.microsoft.com/office/developer/preview/default.asp

Enjoy.

Posted by Dare Obasanjo at

Sam writes:
"the test of that assertion is whether or not Office does anything reasonable with the schema that Open Office uses."

I'll be testing that out, and I'll let you know, but given all that the Open Office schema includes I'll be surprised if more complex features work directly in Office 11. I do look forward to being able to resolve such problems with relatively simple XSLT at some point in the future, though I don't think it likely in this coming year's releases.

Sam also writes:
"Wrong. We are talking at different metalevels. Schemas capture rich lexical structure. There still are many different and incompatible ways to express a given semantic."

I see "many different and incompatible ways to express a given semantic" as generally a good thing. While it's useful to have lowest-common-denominator vocabularies (HTML or Universal Business Language - UBL) and specialist vocabularies that no one wants to reinvent (MathML, SVG), there's lots of room out there for people to represent information in the form that makes the most sense to their organization.

While I certainly encourage people to choose their markup structures carefully and consider their semantics before implementing it, I don't believe that those processes will lead us all to identical or even shared semantics, nor do I think they should.

As impressed as I am to see Microsoft Office using XML as much as it is, I am far more impressed that they've chosen to let the customers control the semantics of the markup documents they create and process with Office. That's both a much more difficult programming problem and a much bigger long-term win.

Posted by Simon St.Laurent at

Dare - I'm wrong? At what? Proposing a test for the assertion? Or in saying that there still is a need for things like SVG? Or something else?

Simon - re: "I am far more impressed that they've chosen to let the customers control the semantics of the markup documents they create and process with Office. That's both a much more difficult programming problem and a much bigger long-term win." - I agree.

Posted by Sam Ruby at

I certainly agree about the MS folks' "bias for action". That's more or less my point -- they (as near as I can tell from hanging around their booth at XML 2002) have made great advances toward editing instances of customer-defined schema within their state-of-the-art UI products. I give somebody there a LOT of credit for a real innovative leap in a market segment they monopolize. That is rare, to say the least.

I'm not sure what we agree and disagree on with respect to SVG and the OASIS office docs spec. Clearly they are on different metalevels. Anyway, on reflection, it would certainly be a Good Thing to have easy interoperability among Word, OpenOffice/StarOffice, Corel's stuff ... but I can't imagine MS supporting this without a struggle.

I agree that the critical issue is whether Word will be able to support the OpenOffice/OASIS schema much as they do other schema. If so, that would seem to be a more productive way to achieve the interop goal than to hope they join the OASIS TC.

My bottom line here is that the best way forward would be for the others to improve their ability to map their internal data models to customer-defined schema. That lets us adopt the attitude of "may the best schema win" or "use the best schema for the job at hand" rather than "thou shalt use the One True Office Schema" and then spend our lives arguing about what it looks like.

Posted by Mike Champion at

I certainly agree about the MS folks' "bias for action". That's more or less my point -- they (as near as I can tell from hanging around their booth at XML 2002) have made great advances toward editing instances of customer-defined schema within their state-of-the-art UI products. I give somebody there a LOT of credit for a real innovative leap in a market segment they monopolize. That is rare, to say the least.

I'm not sure what we agree and disagree on with respect to SVG and the OASIS office docs spec. Clearly they are on different metalevels. Anyway, on reflection, it would certainly be a Good Thing to have easy interoperability among Word, OpenOffice/StarOffice, Corel's stuff ... but I can't imagine MS supporting this without a struggle.

I agree that the critical issue is whether Word will be able to support the OpenOffice/OASIS schema much as they do other schema. If so, that would seem to be a more productive way to achieve the interop goal than to hope they join the OASIS TC.

My bottom line here is that the best way forward would be for the others to improve their ability to map their internal data models to customer-defined schema. That lets us adopt the attitude of "may the best schema win" or "use the best schema for the job at hand" rather than "thou shalt use the One True Office Schema" and then spend our lives arguing about what it looks like.

Posted by Mike Champion at

Sorry for the double post ...
But I just want to say for the record that I don't see anything here that reflects on the desirability of widespread support for SVG. I agree that essentially everyone with a graphics story should support at least the Tiny flavor, I wish MS would support it in IE (but the Adobe plugin makes that somewhat moot), and they do seem to be supporting it where it counts, e.g. in Visio.

Shudder, saying all these nice things about the Borg! What did you slip in my beer at XML 2002, Dare? :-)

Posted by Mike Champion at

Sam,
You are wrong for narrowly focusing on a single XML format being directly supported by Microsoft when what the Office XML folks have done is enabled much more. Your statements are like arguing that Internet Explorer should have built in support for DocBook XML or LegalXML instead of simply supporting any combination of XML + CSS or XML + XSLT out there.

Code talks. When Office 11 ships interested users (such as yourself) can create templates and the likes which enable support for whatever XML format you like then share these templates with whoever you want.

This reminds me of the [broken] concept of RSS browsers. You are arguing that an application supporting a one specific XML format automatically is preferrable and more important than supporting any XML format imaginable with some user elbow grease. I disagree and most XML folks who are all about separation of presentation from content would feel the same way.

Posted by Dare Obasanjo at

Dare, your comment about "built in support" and Mike's lament about SVG requiring a plugin from Adobe triggered something...

Would it be possible using only documented and supported Office 11 APIs for a third party to provide a fully functional "plug in" support for the OASIS/OpenOffice defined format within Office 11?

Posted by Sam Ruby at

Sam,
I can't go into detail about unreleased products but the answer to your question really depends on the product. This is definitely the case with Word 11 as is shown on the page I provided a link to a few posts ago but will vary from application to application for the others.

However the situation you describe seems to have been the primary goal of Word 11's XML functionality.

Posted by Dare Obasanjo at

Disclaimer: My posts in this thread should not be construed as official MSFT comments nor do they reflect any information that is not publicly available on http://www.microsoft.com/office/ or http://msdn.microsoft.com

Posted by Dare Obasanjo at

Tell me where I am wrong (I know everyone will!) but it seems to me there are two issues being blended here, causing confusion.

First is the XML expression of the long-time desire of the SGML community to have tools that create and respect markup within documents. Office 11 appears to be coming out with support for this capability and much of the discussion here seems to be about the ability to use Office 11 to create and view arbitrary XML.

Second is the ability of the normal user to open and save their work in formats that can round-trip to other users with full integrity and function throughout the journey. AS far as I can tell, Office 11 makes no concessions in this direction as it neither supports the formats others use nor documents the formats it uses itself. This is the area the OASIS office formats TC is trying to address.

Posted by Simon Phipps at

You are the one that seems to be mistaken you said

"Second is the ability of the normal user to open and save their work in formats that can round-trip to other users with full integrity and function throughout the journey"

which is EXACTLY what Office 11 supports. The difference is that Office 11 supports LegalXML, OPML, RSS, DocBook, XBRL, etc equally while for some reason Sam and it seems you are arguing that it should only support a specific XML format.

I can't see how anyone can look at that argument and not consider it ludicrous.

Posted by Dare Obasanjo at

Dare, can you point out where you think I said that Office 11 should support exactly one specific XML format?

This was not my intent. In fact, I tried rather hard in Part II of this series to make that explicitly clear.

Posted by Sam Ruby at

Those are all wonderful and it's great to see Microsoft supporting formats some other specialist products use. No-one is asking for Office 11 to support only one format.

But the problem is, there's no other word processor used by ordinary folk (the ones who pay for all the Office licenses in existence and hence pay for Microsoft to stay in business) that either has its format supported or is likely to be able to read and write the default format in which Office will store its files (which as I understand it is still a proprietary binary format). Or am I wrong? Will the new Word save files by default as XML? Will the format used by available with no strings attached so others can support it? Will it be contributed to the OASIS TC?

What I'm trying to get at here (and I apologise if I'm upsetting you by the way I'm explaining it - and I think this is what the C|Net article was getting at) is that the great new features being introduced for power users and web services integration (my first area above) are being used as an excuse not to join the OASIS TC and not to provide interoperable productivity apps for the average user (my second area above).

Posted by Simon Phipps at

Simon,
This thread is diving into pointlessness so this is my last post. Office 11 supports XML documents as a native format. If you come up with an XML format then Office 11 supports it with a little elbow grease on your end. So the only argument is then whether you want Microsoft developers to build in the support for specific XML formats (i.e. provide templates, hardcoding behavior, etc) or whether you do it yourself.

I'd suggest that you read the white papers in the provided links particularly http://www.microsoft.com/office/developer/preview/downloads/office11andxml.doc and watch the discussions on XML-DEV both past (http://lists.xml.org/archives/xml-dev/200210/msg01357.html) and present (http://lists.xml.org/archives/xml-dev/200212/msg00496.html and http://lists.xml.org/archives/xml-dev/200212/msg00371.html).

Posted by Dare Obasanjo at

Well, sorry you're jumping out of the discussion. I understand your position well, I think, there's no need to keep repeating the issues with regard to point one (the one that caters for the markup community). You aren't answering my questions (or Sam's) though with regard to point two, though.

Posted by Simon Phipps at

Apparently Dare is not in a position to talk further about an unreleased product. Hopefully he will rejoin this discussion when MSO11 is released.

Meanwhile, I think that Dare left us a clue by repeating that it "required a little elbow grease", a phrase that - to me - connotes a wide range of effort from "somewhat difficult" to "all but impossible".

I guess time will tell.

Posted by Sam Ruby at

No Mercy [WebTech]

A group of which I am a part (ironically in an organisation with "open" in its name) insists on conducting its discussions as word-processing files attached to e-mail messages, and the consequence is that no-one can readily 'mine' the information in...

Excerpt from Webmink: the blog at

Open Office Wars, Part 5

I will note in passing that OpenDocument is the default file format for OpenOffice 2.0, currently in beta.  It apparently is not compatible with the OpenOffice 1.x formats. Earlier I wrote parts 1, 2,  3,  4.  Time for an update. Complaints on OpenOff... [more]

Trackback from Sam Ruby

at

Add your comment