Monday, April 28, 2008

OOXML and Microsoft Office 2007

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I thought ISO adoption of Microsoft's OOXML was a good thing because a practical standard that everyone followed was more valuable than a noble standard that everyone ignored. Well, it turns out that OOXML is actually the standard that no one follows. As Stephe Walli points out, Microsoft Office 2007 does not support OOXML. So what good is a standard that no one supports? No good at all. At least OpenDocument is supported by multiple applications.

But complex layout standards are a tricky business because it is difficult to write a complete and clear specification that covers so much detail. Just look at the HTML standard and browser compatibility. Joel Spolsky writes eloquently on that topic here. And HTML is designed to be much simpler than an office format.

If the ultimate goal is to allow people with different software applications to collaborate on layout intensive documents, I don't know if we are ever going to get there. As an experiment, I took a report written in NeoOffice and opened it and saved it in Apple TextEdit (which claims ODF support). When I re-opened the document in NeoOffice, much of the formatting was stripped out. I am still waiting for Lotus Symphony's promised Mac release. That will be a better test of round-trip collaboration.

My true hope is that less collaborative content development is done in documents and more through server based tools such as wikis. I think the average knowledge worker is moving in that direction. Tools like Zoho Office and Google Docs are helping here a great deal. These tools allow the collaborative process to happen in a storage neutral way and then give options as to what format the content is published in (PDF, ODF, OOXML - or whatever MS Office really is).