OpenOffice: the XML format for the masses
15:52, 18 Dec 2002 UTC | Eric van der Vlist

Jean Paoli for Microsoft and Daniel Vogelheim for OpenOffice both chose the same title "XML for the masses" for their presentations, a commonality which hides two very different approaches from the editors of two competing office productivity suites.

The strategy of OpenOffice is to focus on the XML format natively used to store the documents. In his presentation, Daniel Vogelheim gave an overview of the OpenOffice XML format and justified the design decisions taken to meet the following requirements:

  • use existing standards - don't reinvent the wheel
  • "transformability" - the format must be usable outside of the office application
  • first class XML - all structured content must be accessible through XML structures

The result is a complex format (over 450 elements and more than 1600 attributes), with a good amount of redundancy but easily readable and easily transformable: to some extent, this is an XML format for the users more than for the developers!

This format has been given as an input to the OpenOffice OASIS Technical Committee to create a to create an "open, XML-based file format specification for office applications."

For Microsoft, the strategy appears to be to bring XML tools on each desktop and leave each user free to choose his own schemas rather than promoting an XML office format which will be specific to Microsoft, and for which a licensing model is still unclear.

If the target of Microsoft Office 11 is to deliver XML tools to the masses, the target of OpenOffice is to become the XML office format for the masses!

Other stories:

Re: OpenOffice: the XML format for the masses (Guy Macon - 10:38, 20 May 2003)

I know a company that has over 30,000 carefully worded and formatted documents in WordPerfect 5.1/DOS format. Care to try to edit a document stored in Wang, Electric Pencil, WordStar, WordPerfect for DOS or Lotus 123 formats? All of them were market dominators in their day. What we need is a format that won't change.

Guy Macon, electrical engineer

Re: OpenOffice: the XML format for the masses (Terris Linenbach - 20:34, 8 Jan 2003)

I object to the casual use of the word "masses" to refer to a relatively wealthy and privileged segment of the world's population which consumes most of its resources.

I'd like to see those in the computing industry be more sensitive to the plight of the the 4 billion or so people in the world who don't even have access to clean drinking water.

An XML data format for office documents is important, but it's a small issue considering the suffering that many endure on a day to day basis.

Although I have no answers for the difficult problems of the world, I don't use words like "masses," even when advocating an anti-corporate viewpoint.

> Re: OpenOffice: the XML format for the masses (Jamshed F. Mehta - 13:05, 6 Mar 2003)

Re: OpenOffice: the XML format for the masses (Jess Holle - 20:12, 18 Dec 2002)

Both Microsoft and OpenOffice are missing half the boat.

Microsoft shows every sign of making their native XML format hard to use, half documented, etc, etc, as they have typically done with any other format they produce (e.g. RTF).

OpenOffice on the other hand, seems to be missing the notion of constructing one's own schema for the content and metadata thereon. They've done a good thing with their open, user (downstream programmer) friendly XML format for office suite /layout/formatting data. What they're entirely missing is the notion that besides the text/formatting itself, one should be able to embed meta-data of one's own schema and style/re-use this in various ways -- and moreover that the office-suite GUIs should assist you in this!

Essentially, OpenOffice seems to be doing an open, highly usable XML format for today's typical office-suite data. Microsoft is at least promising to bring the power of XML authoring tools to the masses.

If Microsoft does what they're saying they're going to, their capability (though not necessarily their openness/accessibility) will continue to remain one step above the competition, including OpenOffice, whereas currently OpenOffice is a quite suitable replacement for the vast majority of Microsoft Office (pre-11) functionality.

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