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Microsoft

Tim Bray on Microsoft Office 589

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the good-things-where-you-least-expect-them dept.
jgeelan writes "The co-inventor of XML, Tim Bray, has been talking about the newly XML-enabled version of Microsoft Office, code-named 'Office 11' and tells XML-Journal that 'when the huge universe of MS Office documents becomes available for processing by any programmer with a Perl script and a bit of intelligence, all sorts of wonderful new things can be invented that you and I can't imagine.'"
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Tim Bray on Microsoft Office

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  • by Sneftel (15416) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @04:57AM (#4520211)
    Wow, I was way off when I predicted that Microsoft would further obfuscate their Word format. This seems to be in all respects a Good Thing.

    StarOffice has used XML for their native file formats for some time now; I wonder if this means we'll see an even better-quality translator between the two formats?
    • Wow, I was way off when I predicted that Microsoft would further obfuscate their Word format.

      They won't have to. Since they are going the SQL server way for their filesystem, they can happily give away the hold they have on file formats, since they are going to have a stranglehold on accessing those files. You want an open file system? Here you go (and MS has a lot to gain by doing this - they instantly give Word access to most other data formats) - but don't think anything other than a microsoft OS will actually be able to access the files - thanks to our new deliciously obfuscated method of storing data on a disk. Reverse engineering kernel level SQL data (how a bit of crypto, for DRM of course, thrown in) will probably be even harder than reverse engineering file formats was. And impossible to do legally (say hi to all those DMCA guys out there.)
      • by tonywestonuk (261622) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:55AM (#4520416)
        So, what happens when somone want's to email an XML enabled Word document...... Does it somhow become encrypted on its way out of the database, remains scrambled on it's way over the internet, and reassembles itself into nice XML once it arrives on the recepients computer?.... Doesn't sound like XML to me?!
        • There is also the fact that microsoft loves to put stuff in their Eula. I can also imagine anyone producing a reader for the "encrypted XML" running afoul of the DCMA.

          "Doesn't sound like XML to me?!"

          Sure it is! It's XML with Microsoft Security Extensions!

      • by thelen (208445) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @06:13AM (#4520461) Homepage

        Okay, so it'll be harder to mount a windows partition effectively, but this doesn't affect transmission of documents, especially if they're stored in an XML format. As for me, I think it's more valuable to have files that I can read outside of their native filesystem rather than have a readable filesystem filled with unreadable files.

        • It will indeed be harder to mount the partition. It may also be harder to use that XML data, since what we may be talking about is XML encapsulation of binary, proprietary, encrypted file formats. Don't necessarily think you're going to receive at the other end a plaintext file with a few tags - what you will receive will have been through a closed kernel "request" to an encrypted database "filesystem", a proprietary DRM system (hardware and software) - and you genuinely believe there just gonna bang it out as plaintext at the other end?
      • by donutello (88309) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @11:57AM (#4522633) Homepage
        What a bunch of pseudo-technical garbage!

        I have a Masters in Computer Science with a focus on databases and storage technology and very little of what you said makes any sense to me. There's nothing easier than getting at data stored in SQL. Where I work, we've shipped a few products where we didn't document the schema because it was too complex and we didn't feel we could support it. Within weeks, almost all of our major customrs had it reverse-engineered anyway. SQL is very easy to get at!

        kernel level SQL data

        There's no such thing. SQL data is stored in tables. You use queries to get at it. Period.

        Also, your story doesn't make any sense. The article says Office 11 is in Beta already. IIRC, the SQL Server and Palladium stuff in the OS doesn't come until Longhorn. Do you think they will actually release a version of Office which won't work until their next OS (who knows when that will be) is released and adopted? How will they make money off all the people who recently upgraded to Windows XP then?
    • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:14AM (#4520278) Homepage Journal
      I don't beleive any of this crap is goingto happen from MS. Not for a New York second.

      You'll be DMCA'd out of the loop for trying, and the format will validate itself with 'Palladium' features in software, or some such.

      However, the mind reels at the idea of managing PowerPoint and Excel files from emacs!

    • by passthecrackpipe (598773) <passthecrackpipe&hotmail,com> on Thursday October 24, 2002 @06:20AM (#4520474)
      No you were not. MS routinely uses XML to encapsulate (proprietary) binary data. In the case of the MSOffice file format, this is especially true, but to a lesser extent this also goes for stuff like BizTalk etc (that has a terrible license attached to it). If Ms is *really* serious about using open formats, and using XML in their Office suite, they should put their money where their mouth is and join in the OpenOffice File format project [openoffice.org]. Most of the opensource players are working their already, and the EU is also set to join. I assure you that mature participation of Microsoft would be very welcome.

      Of course, this will never happen. Instead, MS will continue to push their own "open" XML based file formats. Microsoft Kerberos, anyone?

  • However... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kubrick (27291) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @04:57AM (#4520217)
    Knowing Microsoft, they don't like to give up that format lock-in. They'll find some way to make MSXML difficult or impossible to access, assuming that they haven't already.... encrypted data or something like that.

    • by FyRE666 (263011) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:33AM (#4520353) Homepage
      <?xml version="1.0"?>
      <Data>
      MSWORD$$g$%jk$%sxx"d$%^$% ^($%^m$k^a$%j^$%B$JJ"£"$M £K
      </Data>
    • by PhotoGuy (189467) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @06:44AM (#4520532) Homepage
      They'll find some way to make MSXML difficult or impossible to access, assuming that they haven't already.... encrypted data or something like that.

      What?!?!?!? You mean they'll try and pass something off as a a "security feature," when it's really intended to protect them?

      Nah, that's not really their style.

    • Read the article? (Score:5, Informative)

      by gazbo (517111) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @06:44AM (#4520533)
      This bloke said he has had extensive access to the alphas and betas. He also said how great it was.

      So unless your mind has been slashdotted to the extent that you think that Microsoft is going to suddenly change the file-format completely between beta and release, then we know that it is perfectly easy to read.

      And if you do believe they will change the format, then you are a moron.

    • My bet is they either use proprietary patented portions of XML or they'll copyright the DTD, schema or stylesheets with the EULA insisting that you only read the XML with MS or non-GPL software.
    • MicroSoft is probably not going to make an obfuscated XML, at least not on purpose.

      Some starry-eyed graduate student there is going to stay up all night for a few weeks and try to do it right, and may even be 3733t enough to try non-MicroSoft tools to read the XML to see if they really did it right. Probably all the problems with the format is that this person is going to be inept. In fact I'm sure that amateur or inept programmers are far more responsible for all the standards breaking from MicroSoft than some evil plan by Bill Gates.

      The problem is that this is not going to be the default save-as format. Most likely the ability to change to this format will be buried pretty deep, and once you do it will pop up error boxes that say "some features of your document may be lost". Again this probably wont really be an order from evil overlords to discourage XML. It will be the inept programmer, realizing that they can't figure out how to translate an obscure feature and thinking they better warn the poor user, and too stupid to figure out how to delay the warning until they detect if the document is using the untranslatable feature.

      The result is that "Word" files will still be the same as they are now. If you don't believe me, MicroSoft long ago tried to standardize of RTF, with exactly the same fanfare and claims that this would solve the incompatability problems. Nobody uses RTF now. And try sending an RTF saved by Word to one of the places that insists you send them a Word document. They will not take it.

      Word also saves as HTML and plain text and can make a pdf, and despite claims here that they are ugly they are still parsable and adhere enough to standards that you can write code to read them. All of this is totally irrelevant, these are not "Word documents". And this new XML is not going to be a "word document" any more than those are.

    • Re:However... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by iabervon (1971)
      Actually, it will almost certainly be that the XML version doesn't include all of the information. It will probably be missing a bunch of relatively insignificant details which will mean that the spacing is a bit off if you export to XML and then import (particularly on a different version of Word). This will, of course, totally mess up the document's pagination and such, so people won't tend to do it.

      Additionally, they probably won't add any Office 12 features to the XML version unless they're being prodded hard at the time, so you'll lose any new features if you try to use the XML format (because, of course, they're being careful not to change the XML format...).
  • by robbyjo (315601) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @04:57AM (#4520218) Homepage

    .... I guess it's just MSXML rather than THE standard XML. But we can figure it out with some "intelligent guesswork" now because the file would be human-readable.

    • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:18AM (#4520292) Journal
      It's just like the old SGML module for Word they used to have about 6 years ago. My guess is that there will be some significant drawback to saving documents in XML, such as loss of some formatting information. That would convince users not to save in the XML format... but that isn't the important thing to Microsoft.

      More significantly, there might be small incompatibilities, or ways that Word-created XML documents divert slightly from what is normal and proper in XML. Perhaps Word will make some (intentional) mistakes when reading back XML files generated in other applications, just like Word's old SGML module would choke on many proper SGML documents.

      Make no mistake: the fact that almost everybody is using Office and the associated file formats makes it very hard for a new contender to enter the office suite market. Microsoft must be aware of the power they have over the market with their Office file formats. Think of it: when you exchange files with other businesses, you have two realistic choices of file formats: Office or plaintext. And now Microsoft is introducing compatibility with an open and well-defined markup langauge, in favour of their proprietary language? I'll believe it when I see it.
  • I've been waiting for this. It's gonna allow me to goto a full Linux system and not have to pay any money...I hope.

    I'm wondering, can MS charge for licences to write tools that parse the XML documents?
    • Re:wicked :) (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Mnemia (218659)
      I doubt it. XML is specifically designed around interoperability, and I don't think MS can charge for use of a standard they don't own. That's why I think that they will break standards compatibility somehow.
  • by leandrod (17766) <l@NOSpaM.dutras.org> on Thursday October 24, 2002 @04:59AM (#4520225) Homepage Journal

    The most important question, besides if the MS Word XML format will be well-documented enough, is if it will be the default saving format. Most MS Office users simply don't care enough to save MS Word documents in RTF, for example, even if it's more than good enough for the vast majority of the documents.

    Not the main issue on the article, but it is unfair to single someone as the inventor of XML, which is just a streamlined version of SGML which is an evolution from IBM's GML.

  • I doubt it. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by theLOUDroom (556455) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:00AM (#4520226)
    I really have my doubts about wether Microsoft will allow "any programmer with a Perl script and a bit of intelligence" to muck around with Office documents.
    I'm guessing their XML document format will be just as hard to decyper and the current office formats.
    • Re:I doubt it. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sql*kitten (1359) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:59AM (#4520425)
      I really have my doubts about wether Microsoft will allow "any programmer with a Perl script and a bit of intelligence" to muck around with Office documents.

      Why not? After all, the high-quality ActiveState port of Perl to Win32 exists because Microsoft paid for it, and you can download it for free. Not only that, but if you want to write your own code to manipulate Office documents, you have been able to do that for years in VBA - all the Office programs expose rich APIs. In fact, they are composed of Objects that you can instantiate and use in your own programs if you want - all MS care about is that there is a licensed copy of Office on the user's machine. One of the easiest ways to do charting is to simply reuse a bit of Excel, for example. From there it's a short hop via COM to any program you want.

      I'm guessing their XML document format will be just as hard to decyper and the current office formats.

      The fact that Office documents have been in a proprietary format in the past is actually unimportant, since the interfaces to the applications (and hence their documents) are well documented (check MSDN or Barnes & Noble if you don't believe me). So the reason that Microsoft are doing this is that they lose nothing and gain from making the platform even more attractive to developers.
      • Re:I doubt it. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by khuber (5664) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @08:05AM (#4520791)
        The fact that Office documents have been in a proprietary format in the past is actually unimportant, since the interfaces to the applications (and hence their documents) are well documented

        So you can read Office documents with other programs as long as you have Office and MS dev tools?

        You do see the folly in that, right?

        -Kevin

    • by spongman (182339)
      what are you talking about? you can 'muck about' with office documents right now with whatever language you want, Perl included. You don't need XML to do it.
    • Re:I doubt it. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ianezz (31449) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @06:19AM (#4520471) Homepage
      I'm guessing their XML document format will be just as hard to decyper and the current office formats.

      There are 2 problems with the current format of Microsoft Office file:

      1. Give the correct interpretation to the bytes representing the document content, in order to import the Office document in some other office suite using a different representation.
        This is mostly solved (thanks to years of trials and errors).
      2. Give the correct interpretation to the bytes representing the document itself AND all the extra cruft having nothing to do with the document contents that the Microsoft Office suite puts in, in order to generate documents readable by the various versions of the Office suite.
        This is definitively more difficult, as nobody knows Office internals and how they expect such additional data to be. StarOffice guys managed to make an acceptable job, at the price of years of trials and errors. It's like watching at a dump of your computer's memory, guesssing what's code, what's data, what's padding and the meaning of every byte...

      Now, do an XML format simplifies things? Well, yes, just as an RTF text is easier to manage than a pure binary format, but nothing prevents putting extra cruft in an XML document, so it's just that instead of having to use a hex editor, you now may use a text editor, but giving a correct interpretation of tags and attributes is something that only Microsoft can do, unless it publishes the full specifications (present and future: after all, XML is eXtendible, right?)

      Personally, I think that:

      • Microsoft is realizing that the current Office formats are getting out of control, so it wants to get rid of them, because mantaining backwards compatibility is becoming too much painful.
      • An XML-based format may be the right answer for Microsoft, in that all the subtles of parsing binary data simply disappear, while it may still make difficult to everyone else to understand what's the real meaning of data. Let's say <obscuretag_42 foobarizer="xyzzy"/>
      • Microsoft was not giving out the specifications of the formats of its Office suite before: should we now suppose it's giving out the DTD/Schema AND a good explanation of how to interpret it? I'd hope the answer is yes, but giving the company's precedents...
      • Re:I doubt it. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bartmoss (16109)
        I think you are dead on. Plus: a) XML is a great buzzword; b) it makes MS *seem* more "open" and "standards compliant".
  • by haeger (85819) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:00AM (#4520229)
    I just thought about someone saying that somewere, when you look back in history, you can see some historical turningpoint where tings just went wrong or right.

    One small such point is when IBM gave out the specs to their hardware for PC allowing everyone to clone it, while Apple did not.

    This could be such a point. Maybe in 10 years we'll look back at this and ask ourselves "Why the heck did MS XML-enable their Office app, releasing the hold that they had"

    Only time will tell I guess.

    .haeger


    I Play Hattrick [hattrick.org]

  • Codename? (Score:2, Informative)

    by furchin (240685)
    It is interesting to note that "Office 11" is referred to as a codename for the next version of Office. Really, it is simply the version number. Office XP is Office 10 (start any office app, click on Help -> About and look for yourself). To call it a codename is mystifying it.
  • *when* ? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Monty Worm (7264) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:01AM (#4520233) Journal
    when the huge universe of MS Office documents becomes available for processing by any programmer

    I beg you pardon? Smelly programmers can keep their hands off my documents. If I wanted you to have them, I'd have emailed them to you as plaintext. I wasn't aware the the Office license meant my documents were common property....

  • by terminal.dk (102718) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:03AM (#4520238) Homepage
    MS is trying to time this right.

    Right now they are seeing diminishing sales, possible shrinking market share. Most of the danish public sector is looking to save money using OpenOffice/StarOffice.

    MS needs to increase their compatibility with other options, as they would otherwise force customers to convert every single user away from MS at once, instead of OpenOffice coming in slowly.

    They can also hope, that their format is setting the standard, and the other companies will have to play catch-up rather than the other way around.
  • imagination (Score:5, Funny)

    by selderrr (523988) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:05AM (#4520245) Journal
    ...all sorts of wonderful new things can be invented that you and I can't imagine...

    When will MS ever learn that we don't WANT to imagine how wonderfull the MS Office Universe is ?
  • WTF???? (Score:3, Informative)

    by jericho4.0 (565125) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:06AM (#4520251)
    from the article;
    The most important question, besides if the MS Word XML format will be well-documented enough,...

    WTF!? XML shouldn't need to be documented. The whole point is to create a human readable file that is parseble by computer. If MS Word delivers an XML file that I can't figure out, it's not XML.

    • Re:WTF???? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lovebyte (81275) <lovebyte2000&gmail,com> on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:10AM (#4520262) Homepage
      Have you ever seen some complex XML file? Without documentation it could be as difficult as binary to reverse-engineer!
    • Re:WTF???? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That really depends on your definition of XML and human readable.

      <?xml version="1.0">
      <document>
      jMyB38QAAMETWFjs7IQAAQEVkJBNq0jEAAW
      RvbGWTYBAADARUaGlzRG9jdW1lbnQ8nhAAC
      udGrTEAAC8BATwAAADMAv8AAgEABABIAAAA
      </document>

      is valid xml, just like a uuencoded file is valid ASCII and human readable.

      But if other M$ products are any indication it won't be that bad. I parsed some Visio stuff and the data was more or less readable. The drawing data (or previews, didn't care) was still encoded though. I expect it to go a little like M$ html did.
    • by mindriot (96208) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:31AM (#4520343)
      Yes, the point of XML files is that their _syntax_ is simple and easily parseable by computers. But that doesn't tell you anything about the _semantics_ of a document. And as long as there is no proper documentation on what the mess of tags in your XML file means, there's hardly any way for you to hack together a Perl script to, say, extract plain text, or convert the Word XML file to an OpenOffice.org XML file, or whatever else comes to mind.
    • Re:WTF???? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ianezz (31449)
      WTF!? XML shouldn't need to be documented. The whole point is to create a human readable file that is parseble by computer. If MS Word delivers an XML file that I can't figure out, it's not XML.

      Uhm, it is also the point of source files in the programming language of your choice, I'd say... and still, you need good comments.

      XML is like Lisp, but with sharp parenthesis.

  • There's lots of speculation here about MS doing stuff to create lock-in with this new format, but I want to actually see the format. Is there any documentation anywhere about it? Or does someone out there have a document in the new format that we can take a look at? Of course, being XML we should be able to just open it and take a look. That would put an end to all this speculation.
  • by Zeddicus_Z (214454) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:10AM (#4520263) Homepage
    As far as I can tell, one of the major reasons many businesses refuse to change over from Microsoft Office to cheaper options is due to file compatability. As our company's IT admin put it recently on the suggestion of using OpenOffice, "I get sent hundreds of Microsoft Word, Excel and Access documents a week. I need to know that I can open and access every single one of those without problems". An example of proprietry file formats helping Microsoft keep the monopoly.

    However, if Microsoft Office documents become "built around an open, internationalized standard", i.e. XML, would this not enable the people behind OpenOffice, StarOffice etc to acheive total 100% file compatability and thus negate Microsoft's largest advantage with Office?

    Of course, this could be yet another Microsoft "embrace and extend" tactic, a la` kerberos. Incorporate the standard in a bastardised form, claim standards compatability, then pollute it so you must be using Microsoft technology to properly interact with it.

    • No, it doesn't (Score:3, Interesting)

      by alispguru (72689)
      Look up at this [slashdot.org]. Putting information in XML makes the first baby step of reverse engineering easier, nothing else.

      XML helps only if the creator of the document wants the information to be easily accessible by programs other than their own.
  • HTML from Word (Score:5, Interesting)

    by e8johan (605347) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:11AM (#4520266) Homepage Journal
    Just look at an HTML file exported form Word2k. I would not call that compatible with any HTML I've ever learned. Most probably the XML file exported from Office 11 will be a Microsoft specific file, specifying lots of Office specific ActiveX (aka OLE) info that cannot be emulated. And, hey, they can probably store binary data in XML. The only change is that most competing products will emit files that Word can easily read, i.e. M$ will get the biggest benefits.
    • Re:HTML from Word (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pubjames (468013) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:51AM (#4520403)
      Just look at an HTML file exported form Word2k.

      An excellent point sir. That's a great illustration of how Microsoft approaches 'open' file formats.

      People that think that MS Office is going to move to open, well documented file formats are just plain nuts. But look at many of the comments in this forum - it seems MS has even managed to persuade many Slashdotters that they are going to use open formats. Poor fools.
    • Re:HTML from Word (Score:5, Informative)

      by superyooser (100462) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @06:24AM (#4520481) Homepage Journal
      True. Just a couple days ago, I saved a doc as Web Page in Word (Office XP) hoping that some clipart would be saved in a web-friendly format. (This was originally made in Publisher, NOT by me.) It didn't work; it saved the images as .wmz! For the web?!

      Anyway, there was tons of gibberish in the file, but it displayed fine in IE6. It was a completely blank page in Mozilla! Nothing at all! We always knew the XP didn't stand for cross-platform, but I didn't know it was this bad.

  • by Baki (72515) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:14AM (#4520276)
    Just because the file format, instead of binary, is "human readable", does not make it more open.

    For "any programmer with a Perl script and a bit of intelligence" it doesn't make a difference if you read bytes (binary) or XML structures.

    As long as you don't get a DTD with extensive comments on how to interpret the elements, along with some promise/guarantee that the DTD won't change every minor release, there is no real improvement at all.

    The fact that XML is human readable is irrelevant, since no human shall read the files, but programs such as perl scripts shall. For them it makes hardly any difference; it is only marginally easier since you can use an existent XML parser instead of rolling your own (which is no big deal using the right tools such as YACC).

    This 'openness' comes at a good time for Microsoft. They suggest openness in a time that they are criticized and attacked because of file-format lock in. Many 'advisors' shall be mislead, blinded by buzzwords such as XML as they are, and actually believe that this solves the issue.
    • by smallpaul (65919) <paul&prescod,net> on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:36AM (#4520365)

      As long as you don't get a DTD with extensive comments on how to interpret the elements, along with some promise/guarantee that the DTD won't change every minor release, there is no real improvement at all.

      Have you ever tried to reverse engineer a binary file format? And have you ever tried to do the same thing with an XML file format? I learned huge chunks SVG yesterday _without_ opening an SVG book, just by mucking around in an existing SVG file and with an SVG viewer. Of course, Microsoft could do something clearly in violation of the spirit of XML, by making the whole thing one tag full of base64ed text or something. But as long as they use tags in a semi-sane way (which is the whole point, for integration with corporate systems), XML will be a big step forward.

      • One big difference: SVG was designed and is intended to be open and understandable. Office formats, using XML or not, are not. I do not believe MSFT would voluntarily cease their lock-in strategy.

        XML may be easier to reverse engineer, but must not be, this depending on how complex the DTD/Schema is and if the designer intended it to be easily understandable or not. Apart from that, as a purist I don't like reverse engineering, especially not if the subject of reverse engineering is from an uncooperative company known for its dirty tricks.

        A non XML grammar/syntax, if accompandied by a decent and documented EBNF description of it's grammar, is much better to base your program on than an undocumented XML.
  • by pubjames (468013) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:22AM (#4520306)
    Perhaps these announcements of XML compatible office file formats are just stalling tactics? MS has done it before.

    MS now has a serious competitor in StarOffice/OpenOffice.org. And that competitor has two compelling advantages - it's cheaper/free, and open XML file formats. So when clued-up IT people say to their Pointy-Haired Bosses that they should use StarOffice/OpenOffice.org, PHBs can respond "but MS is doing that next year. We can avoid all the disruption of changing office suites just by waiting a bit and upgrading to the next version of MS Office. Besides, we're already paying for it." Then when MS actually releases Office 11, they will have used all sorts of devious and subtle devices to keep their lock-in of the file format, and MS and PHBs will be happy.
  • by twoshortplanks (124523) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:22AM (#4520309) Homepage
    I've used the excel reading and writing modules for Perl with great success. They're easy to use and do the job. (there are also simpler [cpan.org] interfaces [cpan.org] if you want them too.)

    Or you could go the whole hog and use a SAX writer like XML::SAXDriver::Excel [cpan.org] to create the documents from XML yourself.

    (This is not to say I don't think XML native formats arn't cool and will have many uses, I'm just pointing out what you can do now.)

  • What I heard.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LarsBT (580206) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:27AM (#4520322)
    I can't remember the reference, but I heard that they will embed binary code for different word-objects within XML tags e.g.

    <equation> 0100100100111101010011010101101010010 </equaition>
    which is allowed in XML (if I understand XML correctly). So not much gain if everything is still in propriety closed binary format.

    I think maybe it was the CEO of Microsoft Denmark. I'm NOT sure though

  • by Bazman (4849) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:29AM (#4520333) Journal
    <?xml version="1.0"?>
    <uueWord2kDocument>
    M"@D)("!'3E4 @3$E"4D%262!'14Y%4D%,(%!50DQ)0R!,24-%3 E-%"@D)("`@
    M("`@(%9E7)I9VAT("A#*2`Q.3DQ
    M($9R96 4@4V]F='=A6]N92!I2!A;F0@9&ES=')I8G5T
    M92!V97)B871 I;2!C;W!I97,*(&]F('1H:7,@;&EC96YS92!D; V-U;65N="P@
    </uueWord2kDocument>

  • C'mon People (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BurritoWarrior (90481) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:34AM (#4520358)
    Office's MS-XML will be even less compatible with sthe spec than MS-Kerberos or MS-Java/J++. Office is their cash cow. It brings in 30-40% of their revenues all by itself.

    If you think there is even a remote chance in he-double L that MS will loosen their grip on this revenue stream, I have a bridge to sell you.

    You can call this flamebait if you want, but what in MS's history would lead me to believe they are suddenly going to change their historic behavior pattern AND risk a huge amount of revenue at the same time?
  • by dimator (71399) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:35AM (#4520362) Homepage Journal
    <?xml version="1.0"?>
    <document type="word">
    <![CDATA[
    @%MYD<V@Q4VEA8^`!AX0>DN6UIJE=^1J;1F\ @! (P@@<$Y(@OL%AS`0B=$<S*
    4&A399HT2*S-@*+U&1)+KCS>J4 HJTZ=^F534G%_S8\6=YS7?#59_.U!YI[_^
    AU$`HOG^5/N3A9 9'<\V/YP`(T*'MZ6)3UVSCDYF&+B;0H?7I3'O7'(2/H(Z>
    U= ;N1:`!4*"4U/ATNK5GOO+^B\O?/\QK^3KE>KVYL"PN-3O2'/^9 3/U)I.PP
    FXG3%*.RR)0.R'/&N!?>U'*;4FK6B,U:B<4@-6O% 1D!!%Z/31&E(R*MCU,HH
    15RT`H`P2H$,O5FB!R,`"*`!J5FJ -4@TNEB5)E:'"D;AO4.?>-Z1FGVQN"3O
    VN6RANM76P&((F=# 3GYM05%C;E%C1F[MQ>P:*".O*3VW,<-9`T:D.^O2BE@*
    4N25 U@$0X#X!(B8*+H-1(3'!Y9'%ZF1B%7P9E#"^90&U72560M1E`R F$1;4$
    :%/(I$JY3"67*"&E5,4&X.2>R]!F@"#7VLH>;5`>@( "`!IX4A`FK)LG*7O%D
    P^$G)10Y"^L:FO_^\,GTP-"V:_R/GL %-,**[?^UIWRK2YT.;70-KW8.LG;)[
    ]]>
    </document>
  • by pvera (250260) <pedro.vera@gmail.com> on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:39AM (#4520372) Homepage Journal
    SQL Server has had an XML web gateway since version 2000. You can run any query and output it as xml or have an xml template pull the query and transform the results with XSL, all without one line of server side script.

    ASP.net uses XML for all the human-readable files, and the IIS in windows.net server finally uses Apache-style configuration files which are also XML.
  • Yeah, right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Alex Belits (437) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:41AM (#4520377) Homepage
    XML is a format with nearly infinite possibilities for obfuscation, convolutedness and poorly defined standards. The most we can expect is the possibility to validate a file to absolutely certainly determine if it is compliant with the new Word format or not.
  • by Qbertino (265505) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @05:45AM (#4520392)
    I'm working with that weedy Word 2k at the office. And we use Outlook as a standard communication Platform. Believe me, that their Software often is such a pain isn't that much of a greater plan to rule the world, but more the flat-out ineptitude of delivering products with a conceptual consitency.
    Looking at Frontpain and Word HTML and extrapolating XML from that, tells me they're gonna do just a crappy job as usual and really think they've done a great thing.
    Just like the people sending me source code additions and DB content as Wordfiles. Nothing but simple inemptitude, I say.
    Not that my System of choice, Linux, is that much more consistent. Mind you. With a bazillion Font methods, every single one of them looking crappier than the next and QT, GTK+, Motif, Lesstif, Inbetweentif, Swing, TK and whatnot and none of them following the same Clipboard behaviour it's just as weedy. Only it is under *my* control to change it.
    That way, the bottom line is: With OSS if it doesn't work, there's another way. With M$ it's 'Game Over' with the first "Error in module [fill in random hexcode here]".
    That's the simple difference.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 24, 2002 @06:01AM (#4520431)
    code-named 'Office 11'

    awesome. Apparently the next version of the linux kernel is code named 2.6! Wow!
  • by Korth (50341) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @06:05AM (#4520433)
    I've recently been reviewing a dozen of different software to convert from Word to XML.

    So far the best tool I found is upCast (free for personal use) from http://www.infinity-loop.de/ .

    To convert a Word file:
    * Use Word's AutoFormat feature to convert visual formatting to Word styles
    * Redefine all the text as Word styles
    * Run upCast to convert to XML using the "XML (content, no DTD)" filter
    * Run HTML Tidy from http://tidy.sourceforge.net/ with the parameters -xml -utf8 -clean -bare .

    Other tools that might be worth a second look:
    * Majix (Open Source) - http://www.tetrasix.com/
    * WorX SE - http://www.xyvision.com/
    * XML MarkupKit (in German) - http://www.eds.schema.de/download/MarkupKit/
    * DocSoft LLC Word-to-XML - http://www.docsoft.com/w2xml.htm
  • Hype! Hype! Hype! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RobotWisdom (25776) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @06:05AM (#4520435) Homepage
    This article is pure PR, with no new content. The XML-cult will keep waving their hands and promising great payoffs 'RSN' (real soon now) until people actually start trying to implement uniform semantic tags in their data and documents... at which point universal disillusionment will set in because the problem is way too hard even for trained AI-PhDs. [more] [robotwisdom.com]

    The thread a couple of weeks ago about the death of META headers will apply 1000 times worse for semantic tags-- if the semantic web is going to work at all it needs to start from headers describing the webpage as a whole.

    (Also, what's with XML-Journal's claim the article has three pages when it only has two?)

  • Bigger picture (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cheese Cracker (615402) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @06:05AM (#4520438)
    Look at the bigger picture of where Microsoft is heading. They're diversifying their line of business.
    In the past, MS Office was the cash cow at Microsoft, but the market for office packages is rather
    saturated... companies and governments are looking for cheaper alternatives etc. Not much room to
    grow. Now they can afford playing the good guys by opening up their file formats, since they got
    new markets to capture... mobile phones, handheld computers, home entertainment etc.
  • by javilon (99157) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @06:08AM (#4520448) Homepage
    The open office group should get together with the rest of the guys (abyword, koffice and maybe wordperfect) and work out a format that can be submitted to the ISO. Possibly based on the open office format.
    Then goverments and corporation will adopt it for official documents so they can read their own documents in ten years.
  • by cwernli (18353) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @06:21AM (#4520476) Homepage

    any programmer with a Perl script and a bit of intelligence

    and I thought intelligence was a prerequisite to be able to handle perl ? :)

  • by frleong (241095) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @06:46AM (#4520535)
    Here at MSDN [microsoft.com]

    It is simply not what others is claiming: <?xml version="1.0"><data>blahblah</data>

  • by nmg196 (184961) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @07:50AM (#4520720)
    Microsoft is switching from a proprietary file format, to XML, and the first 100 comments are all flaming MS. WTF does it take to make you people happy?

    They've already shown with .NET that they can make an entire programming framework (and at least 3 assocated languages) into an open standard and even have them ratified by the ECMA and maybe even ISO. Because of this people have already managed to port Perl, Python and many other languages to this framework before it even came out of beta! The guys at Ximian [ximian.com] have even managed to port quite a bit of the framework itself as part of the Mono Project [go-mono.com].

    So perhaps instead of perpetually slating Microsoft, you could get off your arse and do something useful instead.

    Nick...

    • They've already shown with .NET that they can make an entire programming framework (and at least 3 assocated languages) into an open standard and even have them ratified by the ECMA and maybe even ISO.


      That's not true. Only C# has been submitted to ECMA. VB and JScript.NET have NOT.

      The CLI submissions are only a small subset of the .NET framework. This is for a good reason, most of the .NET framework relies on Windows services (System.DirectoryServices, System.Windows.Forms, System.EnterpriseServices, ...).

      C# and the CLI does NOT make up a platform like Java. It's more like C. Both C# and C provide a basic set of classes. Anything more 'advanced' is provided through extension libraries that may or may not be cross platform (just like C). You could write a sound library for C# that uses DirectX and it would only work on Windows. On the other hand, you could write a sound library for C# that uses OpenAL. It would work on all platforms where OpenAL is supported.

      Many features that Java has such as GUIs, Telephony, Speech, Sound, 3D etc aren't supported by .NET and certainly won't be standardised. Sound support will be added by Microsoft in the future but it will use DirectX (obviously NOT cross platform).

      The cross platform hopes for C# pretty lie in OSS hands. It is up to the OSS community to write 'standard' cross platform libraries for C# (just like we have for C). C# interfaces nicely with C so it is likely that many cross platform libraries for C# will use the corresponding C libraries.

      As you can see, the CLI is much more like C+GLIB than the "Java Platform".

      Java is a meta-operating system. It a huge set of APIs consistantly on all platforms.

      C#/CLI does not always provide a consistant API on all platforms but it allows and encourages you to rely and exploit on the native APIs available on the underlying operating system.

      Which is better? It really depends on what you want. Java is obviously the only choice for cross platform development (atm). C# however appears to be a good replacement for C -- especially on the client side. It complements the underlying operating system whereas Java tends to hide it. That's why you will see a lot of C#/GTK# applications for Gnome in the future but not many Java/GTK applications.
  • by g4dget (579145) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @08:48AM (#4521103)
    The most wonderful thing that would happen would be that people can finally dump that messy piece of software and move to a better toolset.

    Unfortunately, Microsoft won't let it happen. The data may be "in XML", but that doesn't mean you can read it or generate it well. Instead, Microsoft will give you just enough to serve their business interests and nobody else's.

    How? Office will probably stick undocumented base64 encoded binary stuff into the output, containing formatting information. You can use the document content, for example, with a database, but you can't load it into another word processor and preserve all the formatting. And in the other direction, sure, you can generate simple documents that Office will import, but you can't generate arbitrary Word documents--they will, again, have weird, undocumented tags and binary stuff.

    In short: don't hold your breath. Microsoft isn't stupid.

  • by magi (91730) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @09:59AM (#4521661) Homepage Journal
    Doing XML stuff with OpenOffice is supergreat. It took me half-an-hour to study the format enough to write a XSLT parser that extracts all strings from an OO document.

    Now I wrote, just for demonstration, the following XSLT example in just a few minutes, useable directly with xsltproc in Linux.

    The example prints all the Heading paragraphs in a OO Writer document, indented according to the header level.

    <?xml version='1.0'?>
    <xsl:stylesheet
    xmlns:xsl="http: //www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform"
    xmlns:office="ht tp://openoffice.org/2000/office"
    xmlns:style="htt p://openoffice.org/2000/style"
    xmlns:text="http:/ /openoffice.org/2000/text"
    xmlns:table="http://op enoffice.org/2000/table"
    xmlns:draw="http://openo ffice.org/2000/drawing"
    xmlns:fo="http://www.w3.o rg/1999/XSL/Format"
    xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.or g/1999/xlink"
    xmlns:number="http://openoffice.org /2000/datastyle "
    xmlns:svg="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg"
    xmlns:c hart="http://openoffice.org/2000/chart"
    xmlns:dr3 d="http://openoffice.org/2000/dr3d"
    xmlns:math="h ttp://www.w3.org/1998/Math/MathML"
    xmlns:form="ht tp://openoffice.org/2000/form"
    xmlns:script="http ://openoffice.org/2000/script"
    version='1.0'>

    <xsl:output method="text" encoding="ISO-8859-1"/>

    <!-- Print all headings, indented. -->
    <xsl:template match="text:h">
    <xsl:value-of select="substring(' ', 1, (@text:level - 1) * 2)"/>
    <xsl:text>* </xsl:text>
    <xsl:value-of select="text()"/>
    <xsl:text>&#xa;</xsl:text>
    </xsl:template>

    <!-- Don't output any other text. -->
    <xsl:template match="text()">
    </xsl:template>
    </xsl:stylesheet>

    The result would be something like:

    * Top-level heading such as a chapter
    * Second-level heading (section)
    * Another section
    * Subsection
    * Subsubsection
    * Yet another section
  • by tbray (95102) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:22AM (#4521858) Homepage Journal
    I've seen the native Word XML format (alpha mind you, so it might get changed). It isn't exactly pretty, and if I had to write code to extract all the paragraphs that contained the word "foo" in bold it would give me a bit of a headache, but I could do it.

    The word "foo" in bold single-underline looks something like

    <r>
    <rf>
    <rp class="bold" />
    <rp class="underline" lines="1" />
    </rf>
    foo</r>

    Yeah, it's pretty verbose.

    Near as I can tell, it is 100% round-trip-able, i.e. you save as that file format, you read it in again, you hit ctl-S and it saves again; about as good as a native format. Now someone needs to write some script-ware to run Word in batch mode to xml-ify server directories with zillions of office docsl

    I think the reason MS is doing this is obvious. Look at their financials - they *really* need people to upgrade to the new version of Office. End-users don't buy Office any more, CIOs and the like do. These people are just not gonna be impressed by another new word-processing feature, but they might be motivated to upgrade if they thought that they were opening up all their data to re-use by other programs.

    I expect that with any luck we'll get a secondary industry built around doing cool unexpected stuff to Office docs. Don't want to sound over-excited here, but a huge amount of all the intellectual capital in the world is sitting around in Office docs, and this makes it noticeably more re-usable. Has to be a good thing.

    Cheers, Tim
    • I think the reason MS is doing this is obvious. Look at their financials - they *really* need people to upgrade to the new version of Office. End-users don't buy Office any more, CIOs and the like do. These people are just not gonna be impressed by another new word-processing feature, but they might be motivated to upgrade if they thought that they were opening up all their data to re-use by other programs.


      Uhh.. from this article [microsoft.com].

      Information Worker turned in healthy revenue growth of 26 percent, reflecting customer adoption of Microsoft Office XP through multi-year licensing programs. Customers acquiring Office this quarter included ChevronTexaco, Lockheed Martin, MetLife, Newell Company (Rubbermaid) and the US Department of the Army, Program Executive Office, Aviation.

      and

      Microsoft Corp. today announced revenue of $7.75 billion for the quarter ended Sept. 30, 2002, a 26 percent increase over revenue of $6.13 billion for the same quarter last year. Operating income for the first quarter was $4.05 billion, compared to $2.90 billion in the same period last year. Net income and diluted earnings per share for the first quarter of fiscal year 2003 were $2.73 billion and $0.50, which included an after-tax charge for investment impairments of $291 million or $0.05. For the same period of the previous year, net income and diluted earnings per share were $1.28 billion and $0.23, which included an after-tax charge for investment impairments of $1.22 billion.

      "Results for the first quarter were exceptionally strong, exceeding our expectations. During the quarter, we saw broader customer adoption of our licensing programs than we anticipated, as customers recognized the value of entering into long-term licensing agreements for our products. This strength in licensing led to solid growth for Windows® XP, Office XP and .NET Enterprise Servers," said John Connors, chief financial officer at Microsoft. "Consistent with our view at the outset of this year, the global economic outlook continues to be uncertain, however we remain committed to making the investments necessary to drive long-term product innovation and customer value across our businesses."

  • by 4of12 (97621) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:47AM (#4522069) Homepage Journal

    MS Office saving its data in XML format is a great start.

    But will this really be enough?

    Previous complaints about how versions of Office didn't disclose the format were often referred to a specification that Microsoft made available to describe what was in a Word document.

    The key problem, IIRC, was the the description was not sufficient for one to predict how the Word document was actually formatted and rendered on the page.

    Because XML is very much like SGML or TeX, it has the potential for much more exhaustively describing document structure. But whether the new Word XML format (or OpenOffice format, for that matter) contains sufficient information for developers to reproduce the "right" format is a different issue.

    I hope I'm wrong and that the format is specified comparably to the level you'd find in say PostScript or PDF.

    Maybe MS is willing to let rendered Office douments change, just as HTML rendered documents change whenever one resizes the browser window.

    But I doubt it.

  • by bobaferret (513897) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @12:59PM (#4523249)
    I think the reason that they are switching over is probably due to the trend in emerging foriegn markets. Peru being a prime example. Countries are starting to enact legislation that requires any government procurments of software to only be for software that uses an open file format. Due to the long term storage problems.
    This tied to the fact that US sales are going to slow down or are already, due to the complete inundation of PC, they need new markets, and unless they use an open format they won't be able to get them. I'd be panicked Linux and Java eroding their server market. Governments are eroding their Office market. They only way they can grow is add value.

  • Genuine XML? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by J. Random Software (11097) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @01:05PM (#4523305) Homepage
    Good in theory, but HTML support in Office 2000 was such a debacle that there are third-party tools designed just to unmangle the markup. They compltely ignored Processing Instruction syntax, which is intended to do just what they wanted, and
    <![if !supportEmpty Paras]>
    wasn't even well-formed SGML.
  • by InnovATIONS (588225) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @08:25PM (#4526346)
    By taking the initiative in this MS can create an XML schema that neatly includes ALL of the featureset and terminology of MS Word/Excel/etc.

    Which then by virtue of market share becomes standard. It is actually in their best interest to publish it clearly. Then the other potential competitors will feel strong pressure to fit their software to match MS and have no real excuse why they can't. If MS waited there would be some other standard emerging and MS would be pressured by customers to adopt it. Then it would be MS having to shoehorn its document logic into some other form and not the other way around.

    While other potential competitors are playing catch-up with making their documents fit into the MS schema MS can be busy thinking about the next thing to do.

    So frankly I expect the word document xml (and excel and the rest) to actually be quite clear and documented but very aligned to how MS Word sees a document, which will likely impress others as obtuse.

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