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The Sad Saga Of OOXML

Not much seems to have been going on in the Office Open XML (OOXML) world for a while. In fact, the last really meaningful development was two years ago in April 2008, when Microsoft successfully got its proprietary Office format sanctified as a standard. Yet it seems like the release of Office 2010 will mark another development, and it's not a good one.
Not much seems to have been going on in the Office Open XML (OOXML) world for a while. In fact, the last really meaningful development was two years ago in April 2008, when Microsoft successfully got its proprietary Office format sanctified as a standard. Yet it seems like the release of Office 2010 will mark another development, and it's not a good one.A recent blog post by Alex Brown at Griffin Brown Digital Publishing recaps the process that led to OOXML becoming a standard. The key was that there were essentially two standards defined. The Transitional standard defined reality and described OOXML as it was implemented in Office 2007, for the purposes of backward compatibility. The Strict standard eliminated the ugly warts in the document specification that were there to accommodate two decades of haphazard changes in the Office document formats.

Most international standards bodies don't have any interest in blessing a proprietary file format that clearly gives one vendor (the one that evolved the format) a huge advantage. As part of the process, Microsoft committed to creating an Open Source implementation of a translator. The project is located at SourceForge but not much has been going on with it lately.

Microsoft's Doug Mahugh has responded in a blog post to many of the issues raised by Alex Brown's blog. The short answer is that Microsoft is working on complete conformance with the Strict version of the standard, but two years of working on it isn't enough. Office 2010 will be able to read Strict documents, but won't be able to write them. The blog says that the version following Office 2010, however, will have the ability to write Strict documents.

Does this foot-dragging by Microsoft have any real impact? Most likely no. Both the Transitional and Strict standards are approved; Microsoft has indicated that it won't let the wording of the standard stop them from doing what they want to do:


So although the conformance clause says that Transitional "should not" be used for new documents, we have decided that the needs of customers, combined with the realities of the current document format ecosystem (most existing implementations are Transitional, recent major changes to the Strict namespaces), make Transitional the right choice.