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Microsoft 'Opens' Its Office Binary Formats

If there's one document format out there that's been a de facto standard that defines de facto standards, it's the Microsoft Office .DOC format (vintage 1997-2003), which has the double whammy of being binary and proprietary, despite also being heavily reverse-engineered.  Now Microsoft has decided to kick off an open source

If there's one document format out there that's been a de facto standard that defines de facto standards, it's the Microsoft Office .DOC format (vintage 1997-2003), which has the double whammy of being binary and proprietary, despite also being heavily reverse-engineered.  Now Microsoft has decided to kick off an open source translation project to convert binary Office documents to ... Open Office XML.  Eh, it's a step.

I could write a book (and come to think of it, someone probably is) about the whole weird way Microsoft has created and promoted its own nonbinary XML standard for documents, when most of everyone else has been sticking with ODF.  But any progress is better than no progress, I guess, and this project effectively does two things at once: it provides both code and documentation for the Office binary formats.  It's been possible to get documentation for the binary formats by writing to Microsoft, but this goes a step further and will make the whole thing available as a simple download.

People are still skeptical, as the comments in the linked blog post indicate.  For one, only .DOC, .XLS, and .PPT files seem to be covered by this particular initiative, which are admittedly the most commonly used of the Office binary file formats but are hardly the whole tamale.  One comment singled out Outlook's database format; I've wondered myself if future versions of Outlook were going to scrap the wretched, error-prone .PST file format and come up with something a little more robust, and in doing so openly document the legacy file format as a goodwill gesture.

There are plenty of people who simply want to turn their collective backs on Microsoft and hope it vanishes.  The company won't go away any time soon, though -- which is why keeping a steady and resolute pressure on it to do the right thing makes sense.  If it pays off, even if only incrementally -- like this -- it's still better than nothing.