I just interviewed Jean Paoli, co-inventor of XML (he usually works a few doors down from my office in building 18, so we talk often). He has been bragging to me for days now about what we just announced 22 minutes ago (that Microsoft is going to standardize its Office document formats up).
Here’s Brian Jones’ blog entry on the announcement (he works on the Office team on file formats).
Here’s the announcement covered by ZDNet/CNET’s News.com.
Here’s the interview, which I did over email this morning (he’s in France working with the team there on this announcement):
Q: Just what did we announce today?
Jean Paoli: Today is an incredible day that I have been waiting for over many years: we are offering the Office XML file format technology behind billions of documents to customers and the industry as an international standard. Together with Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel, NextPage, StatOil and Toshiba, we are co-sponsoring the submission to Ecma, the international standards body, of the Microsoft Office Open XML document formats. We will work together to standardize the formats for approval as an Ecma standard. Our intention is also to submit the result of the Ecma work to ISO for approval as an international standard. This is our press release and a few other documents we published on the subject (The official press release is here.)
Q: Are these formats really open?
Jean Paoli: Yes, and the Standardization process will make this even more clear as we work with the committee members. Ecma International is a very respected organization and is extremely serious about openness in the standards they create and support. The technical committee that will oversee it under Ecma International is open to anyone who is an Ecma member. By working with participating companies like Apple , Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel, NextPage, StatOil and Toshiba and other Ecma members who would want to participate, we hope to create an open standard that will enable customers, technology providers and developers around the globe to work with the Office Open XML formats without barriers, with or without Microsoft products.
Q: Do I need to sign, or agree to, any licensing agreements to use the formats?
Jean Paoli: No, for the specifications and in our work with Ecma International, we are offering a broad “covenant not to sue” to anyone who uses our formats. This is a new approach that continues our open and royalty-free approach. We think it will be broadly appealing to developers, including most open source developers. (by the way you did not have to sign anything even before this announcement.)
Q: How do I know that there isn’t some sort of hidden Microsoft agenda?
Jean Paoli: The only agenda is widespread support for the Office Open XML formats. It takes more than Microsoft to really win the trust of millions of customers for a standard technology.
You know I have always believed in the power of open formats and was really frustrated from the discussion that went on the Internet around our formats for the last 2 months. The data is always the property of the customer. It was our intent since the very beginning of our XML vision to have the maximum number of people to use XML in Office because the range of applications is so wide and universal. Documents could be integrated in so many processes, across platforms. But we wanted customers to be able to take advantage of the XML schemas they had already been developing and using, rather than pushing a new schema on them. That’s why we thought our support for custom defined schema was so critical – and now by submitting the new Office Open XML formats to Ecma International for standardization, we are providing a way for others to be able to take advantage of our support for custom defined schemas as well.
The only agenda we have is providing Office customers with the reassurance that they will be able to access their documents for generations to come. Microsoft Office will do well by expanding the use of Office in new ways. Customers and others in the industry will also benefit.
Working with Ecma to standardize the Office Open XML file formats means that the new international standard will be documented in great detail, making it an extremely stable file format. This stability delivers two main advantages: first, it enables the ability to archive billions of documents for millions of public and private-sector customers worldwide, and second, it enables partners to develop a wide set of tools and platforms, further fostering interoperability across office productivity applications and with line-of-business systems.
Q: Why is Microsoft doing this?
Jean Paoli: It is good for customers, good for the industry, and good for Microsoft. –and the formats are now mature enough to be able to do it via XML technology, without creating support problems, etc. Two years ago this month, we announced the creation of the Office 2003 Reference Schema program, where we provided documentation along with an open and royalty free license to enable companies throughout the industry to work with custom-defined schema our XML-based schemas for their own solutions. While the feedback we have been receiving on the Reference Schema program is rewardingly positive, some of our customers suggested that it might also be useful to submit the formats to a standards body, and we began to seriously think about this as we started working on Office “12,” and approach Ecma International about it this spring. By working with Ecma International as well as our fellow committee members, we hope to enable customers, technology providers, and developers around the globe to work with the formats without barriers, creating a broad ecosystem of products, applications and services that can work with the formats, whether they use Microsoft Office software or not.
Q: You must be happy today Jean?
Jean Paoli: I am extremely happy today. You know, for more than 20 years, I always believed that documents should be expressed in an open format so the data and content can be reused by anyone and any software, cross platform. Previously, the technology was not up to this challenge. Our Office XML format in 2003 was a great step, but this will be seen as a nice milestone, when the industry really received a big signal that our work was truly open for everyone to use. Today, is a great day for this vision . -Jean