Great Aroma from the Microsoft Kitchen

June 2, 2005


Can anybody resist the sweet smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the kitchen? I know that I can’t. And that smell is unmistakable – as well as compelling.

Well, our friends at Microsoft are baking some interesting cookies for Office 12. Specifically, Microsoft has announced that Office 12 document (Excel spreadsheets, Word documents and PowerPoint presentations) will be stored in XML format. W00t!

This _could_ mark the beginning of the the end of proprietary file formats. Of course, it might also mean that Microsoft will simply store Office 12 docs in some blob (or encrypted object) embedded within an XML document.

Right now, it’s hard to tell what will be open and what will be proprietary. Information Week (and everyone else) is reporting (via Dan Leach, a Microsoft spokesmodel) that Open XML formats will be royalty-free. But I am going to play it safe and wait for the file formats and schemas to be released. And it may well be that the formats will be licensed as “royalty-free” but copyright-encumbered. In this way, Microsoft could preclude people from using (or extending) the file formats themselves.

Again, I’m going to wait and see.

But in the meantime, I want Robert Scoble to know that Microsoft’s announcement is “a very good thing.” And I want Robert Scoble to report that Microsoft would score a bigger win if the formats were not only royalty-free but license-free and open for modification and extension. [Please excuse the obvious ‘link-whoring’ effort to sieze Robert’s attention.]

If Microsoft wants their Office suite to live on, they should fully open the file formats themselves. Yes, they might take a hit from the wannabees that will release products that exploit the open formats. But they would also extend the life of the product line by re-invigoring competition. More importantly, Microsoft might be able to cherry-pick the best features from competing and emerging products. In a way, a license-free file format would allow Microsoft to utilize other people/organizations to “test the market” for them. Other people could determine just what customers really want in the next generation of office products. Then Microsoft can “embrace and extend” their current products to include the _best_ new features.

And between now and then, there will be a lot more cool things coming from Redmond. I wonder how Microsoft is going to integrate RSS into the complete desktop experience? While I want to see a “full-on” assault with RSS capabilities being folded into everything (Office, browser, collaboration suites, etc), I fear that Microsoft may try and embed RSS into the Office suite alone. I want to see XML and RSS everywhere. And Microsoft can make this happen. Don’t limit the “open vision” to the Office products alone!

Again, I am going to wait and see. But I’m also going to hope and pray. After all, Jiminy Cricket noted that “When you wish upon a star your dreams come true.” Most people remember that line. But a later line is even more prescient. “If your heart is in your dreams, no request is too extreme.” Well Jiminy, I am requesting a completely open file format for all to use.




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