Microsoft standardizes Office formats – Jean Paoli interview

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):
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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

98 thoughts on “Microsoft standardizes Office formats – Jean Paoli interview

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  3. 5:45: Will I be able to open this file in Linux? In MacOS? In a non-Office program in Windows?

    Yes. It’s a text file inside a ZIP file. Yes. Yes.

    Will these documents be portable across platforms, without a degradation in quality or interoperability?

    Yes. Watch the video. It explains all.

    Robert…what happens when someone in Office 12 on Windows uses IRM to set a document as view only for a week, with no print or modification rights, and sends that to someone running Linux or *BSD, or Solaris?

    Will they be able to use that document in the way the IRM rights allow, or will they be told to view the document on an “approved” platform in an “approved application”?

    See, even if you set rights on a PDF file, as long as I can view it, I can read it in Acrobat Reader, Preview (on mac os x), in a browser with the PDF plugin from Schubert|IT, or with many, many other applications that aren’t provided by Adobe.

    Based on past IRM history, if you apply IRM, that document becomes, in a *best case* scenario, usable ONLY within Office on Mac OS X/Windows, or IE on Windows.

    IRM issues are ALSO a part of this, and MS has no credibility here.

  4. 5:45: Will I be able to open this file in Linux? In MacOS? In a non-Office program in Windows?

    Yes. It’s a text file inside a ZIP file. Yes. Yes.

    Will these documents be portable across platforms, without a degradation in quality or interoperability?

    Yes. Watch the video. It explains all.

    Robert…what happens when someone in Office 12 on Windows uses IRM to set a document as view only for a week, with no print or modification rights, and sends that to someone running Linux or *BSD, or Solaris?

    Will they be able to use that document in the way the IRM rights allow, or will they be told to view the document on an “approved” platform in an “approved application”?

    See, even if you set rights on a PDF file, as long as I can view it, I can read it in Acrobat Reader, Preview (on mac os x), in a browser with the PDF plugin from Schubert|IT, or with many, many other applications that aren’t provided by Adobe.

    Based on past IRM history, if you apply IRM, that document becomes, in a *best case* scenario, usable ONLY within Office on Mac OS X/Windows, or IE on Windows.

    IRM issues are ALSO a part of this, and MS has no credibility here.

  5. Roger, it’ll be about the same thing as WMV (I mean VC-1) which reveals that 95% of the technology in VC-1 is in fact in mpeg-4 and owned by companies other than Microsoft.

  6. Roger, it’ll be about the same thing as WMV (I mean VC-1) which reveals that 95% of the technology in VC-1 is in fact in mpeg-4 and owned by companies other than Microsoft.

  7. “You just need to use the download file and the latest Microsoft Media Player. ”

    You mean the one from 2 years ago? (I know there have been bug fixes, but really… ) “latest” is quite superfluous in that statement.

  8. “You just need to use the download file and the latest Microsoft Media Player. ”

    You mean the one from 2 years ago? (I know there have been bug fixes, but really… ) “latest” is quite superfluous in that statement.

  9. Matusow’s post answers nothing:

    “The obvious first take on this submission will be all about Massachussets and whether or not we were “made” to do this by them. The real story is no we were not. The concerns raised in MA are important as is our relationship with them, but it is important to remember that 2 years ago this month we made the Office 2003 XML Reference Schema available under extremely favorable terms for implementers. The discussions around the State of MA unquetionably put a fine point on the discussions about the future of how document formats were handled, but they were not the direct catalyst of this action on our part. ”

    Yeah. Got that. That’s a time line. It presents no argument or logic. In 2003, the XML Schema was made available. So what? The schema does not mean that any application on any platform can read and create Office compatible documents without a license or use of your patents.

    Which is why Mass. rejected the formats.

    NOW, and ONLY NOW, do you take this step.

    So can you please explain how that post explains ANYTHING?

  10. Matusow’s post answers nothing:

    “The obvious first take on this submission will be all about Massachussets and whether or not we were “made” to do this by them. The real story is no we were not. The concerns raised in MA are important as is our relationship with them, but it is important to remember that 2 years ago this month we made the Office 2003 XML Reference Schema available under extremely favorable terms for implementers. The discussions around the State of MA unquetionably put a fine point on the discussions about the future of how document formats were handled, but they were not the direct catalyst of this action on our part. ”

    Yeah. Got that. That’s a time line. It presents no argument or logic. In 2003, the XML Schema was made available. So what? The schema does not mean that any application on any platform can read and create Office compatible documents without a license or use of your patents.

    Which is why Mass. rejected the formats.

    NOW, and ONLY NOW, do you take this step.

    So can you please explain how that post explains ANYTHING?

  11. Beautiful. This should also mean that any competitor, open source and/or commercial, will be able to provide 100% compatibility with Microsoft formats without having to reverse engineer anything. . . IF the licence truly is an open standard. Theoretically that opens up the market for competition, which in the end gives the consumer more choice and pushes all software providers, Microsoft included, towards higher quality products.

  12. Beautiful. This should also mean that any competitor, open source and/or commercial, will be able to provide 100% compatibility with Microsoft formats without having to reverse engineer anything. . . IF the licence truly is an open standard. Theoretically that opens up the market for competition, which in the end gives the consumer more choice and pushes all software providers, Microsoft included, towards higher quality products.

  13. Paoli: we are offering the Office XML file format technology behind billions of documents

    Danny: are there *really* billions of these

    Scoble: Yes, actually, there are. Have you missed how much market share Office has around the world? The Starbucks guy alone I was sitting next to had hundreds of Office files.

    The way the original answer was worded sugested that billions of documents were already written in Office 12, when they obviously aren’t. Sorry for being harsh, but it’s not Danny’s fault if he couldn’t parse the weaselspeak.

  14. Paoli: we are offering the Office XML file format technology behind billions of documents

    Danny: are there *really* billions of these

    Scoble: Yes, actually, there are. Have you missed how much market share Office has around the world? The Starbucks guy alone I was sitting next to had hundreds of Office files.

    The way the original answer was worded sugested that billions of documents were already written in Office 12, when they obviously aren’t. Sorry for being harsh, but it’s not Danny’s fault if he couldn’t parse the weaselspeak.

  15. 1) What is open?

    2) What is open enough?

    3) What is good enough to be called a ‘standard’?

    4) What is good enough to be developed as a specification?

    5) In a world of just-in-time delivery of bundled functionality for a specific task (think mashup), is reduced complexity per namespaced application better than tightly bundled functionality (web application vs desktop)?

    Using ECMA is an old dodge and ISO was so thorougly butchered in the opening days of web 1.0, it takes some chutzpah to go that route in standardization, but that is a separate issue. It does have an effect on item a. below but we don’t know if that is positive or negative. There is a bit of ‘as the twig is bent, so grows the tree’ karma here.

    On the other hand, some believe this is about OpenDoc vs OpenOffice. This is about:

    a. Procurement policies that can create a tipping point.

    b. The fact that PDF was considered ‘open enough’ and therefore, Adobe is the ultimate winner of this current tempest in a teapot.

    The entertainment value here is profound.

  16. 1) What is open?

    2) What is open enough?

    3) What is good enough to be called a ‘standard’?

    4) What is good enough to be developed as a specification?

    5) In a world of just-in-time delivery of bundled functionality for a specific task (think mashup), is reduced complexity per namespaced application better than tightly bundled functionality (web application vs desktop)?

    Using ECMA is an old dodge and ISO was so thorougly butchered in the opening days of web 1.0, it takes some chutzpah to go that route in standardization, but that is a separate issue. It does have an effect on item a. below but we don’t know if that is positive or negative. There is a bit of ‘as the twig is bent, so grows the tree’ karma here.

    On the other hand, some believe this is about OpenDoc vs OpenOffice. This is about:

    a. Procurement policies that can create a tipping point.

    b. The fact that PDF was considered ‘open enough’ and therefore, Adobe is the ultimate winner of this current tempest in a teapot.

    The entertainment value here is profound.

  17. >I’d love to watch the video, but I can’t. Most WMV files don’t work correctly on my Mac.

    Funny how they work on the Mac sitting here. You just need to use the download file and the latest Microsoft Media Player.

  18. >I’d love to watch the video, but I can’t. Most WMV files don’t work correctly on my Mac.

    Funny how they work on the Mac sitting here. You just need to use the download file and the latest Microsoft Media Player.

  19. I understand the format completely, and I also understand the patent issues around it: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20040126-3336.html (Ars Technica). Speaking of Ars, there coverage of this news is superb and honest: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20051122-5608.html

    I’d love to watch the video, but I can’t. Most WMV files don’t work correctly on my Mac. Hmmm. Funny how that is. Well, at least the site its hosted on renders, what with me not using IE6. Oh, wait, IE6 isn’t even offered on this platform. Well, I guess that just puts me in the ghetto. Hopefully, I’ll be able to type up my complaints in Word 12 for the world to see.

  20. I understand the format completely, and I also understand the patent issues around it: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20040126-3336.html (Ars Technica). Speaking of Ars, there coverage of this news is superb and honest: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20051122-5608.html

    I’d love to watch the video, but I can’t. Most WMV files don’t work correctly on my Mac. Hmmm. Funny how that is. Well, at least the site its hosted on renders, what with me not using IE6. Oh, wait, IE6 isn’t even offered on this platform. Well, I guess that just puts me in the ghetto. Hopefully, I’ll be able to type up my complaints in Word 12 for the world to see.

  21. 5:45: >Will I be able to open this file in Linux? In MacOS? In a non-Office program in Windows?

    Yes. It’s a text file inside a ZIP file. Yes. Yes.

    >Will these documents be portable across platforms, without a degradation in quality or interoperability?

    Yes. Watch the video. It explains all.

  22. 5:45: >Will I be able to open this file in Linux? In MacOS? In a non-Office program in Windows?

    Yes. It’s a text file inside a ZIP file. Yes. Yes.

    >Will these documents be portable across platforms, without a degradation in quality or interoperability?

    Yes. Watch the video. It explains all.

  23. Then again, this is the same company that can’t even make their web content and video format work correctly outside of their playground, so I’m not going to wait up for an answer.

    You know, Microsoft, you’re a frustrating beast. So much good always fucked up by so much nonsense.

  24. Then again, this is the same company that can’t even make their web content and video format work correctly outside of their playground, so I’m not going to wait up for an answer.

    You know, Microsoft, you’re a frustrating beast. So much good always fucked up by so much nonsense.

  25. Will I be able to open this file in Linux? In MacOS? In a non-Office program in Windows? Will these documents be portable across platforms, without a degradation in quality or interoperability? Or, is this just a trojan horse to ensure that my shop upgrades to Office 12, whether we like it or not?

    OpenDoc: Wide-open format, not entangled by patent issues, not strapped to any one software suite, created and used by a group of companies with proven open software support.

    OpenXML: Open (with a few catches), entangled with various patent issues that will likely stymie interoperability, born from a dominating software suite, created and used by a company that would like nothing more than to wipe open software off the face of the planet.

    Office Team, you’ve got some serious questions that need to be answered. I don’t want to request government documents in 2012 only to be told that I must be running Windows Vista SP3, Office 13 and Internet Explorer 8 to view them. So, until you prove otherwise, OpenDoc is the future in my eyes.

  26. Will I be able to open this file in Linux? In MacOS? In a non-Office program in Windows? Will these documents be portable across platforms, without a degradation in quality or interoperability? Or, is this just a trojan horse to ensure that my shop upgrades to Office 12, whether we like it or not?

    OpenDoc: Wide-open format, not entangled by patent issues, not strapped to any one software suite, created and used by a group of companies with proven open software support.

    OpenXML: Open (with a few catches), entangled with various patent issues that will likely stymie interoperability, born from a dominating software suite, created and used by a company that would like nothing more than to wipe open software off the face of the planet.

    Office Team, you’ve got some serious questions that need to be answered. I don’t want to request government documents in 2012 only to be told that I must be running Windows Vista SP3, Office 13 and Internet Explorer 8 to view them. So, until you prove otherwise, OpenDoc is the future in my eyes.

  27. Danny: >are there *really* billions of these

    Yes, actually, there are. Have you missed how much market share Office has around the world? The Starbucks guy alone I was sitting next to had hundreds of Office files.

  28. Danny: >are there *really* billions of these

    Yes, actually, there are. Have you missed how much market share Office has around the world? The Starbucks guy alone I was sitting next to had hundreds of Office files.

  29. If the format is truly opened up, then this move has to be welcomed. But there are hints of smoke and mirrors: “Office XML file format technology behind billions of documents” – are there *really* billions of these? It’s also notable that all this comes after the OpenDoc work and Massachusetts. Microsoft’s open credentials would be more convincing if they lead this way, rather than being pushed by events.

    On Dody’s point – OpenDoc *is* currently a standard document format, it’s got an open specification and is used by OpenOffice and several other tools. It’s obviously not in as widespread use as Word’s current closed format, but it’s more of a standard simply because more than one company’s tools use it.

  30. If the format is truly opened up, then this move has to be welcomed. But there are hints of smoke and mirrors: “Office XML file format technology behind billions of documents” – are there *really* billions of these? It’s also notable that all this comes after the OpenDoc work and Massachusetts. Microsoft’s open credentials would be more convincing if they lead this way, rather than being pushed by events.

    On Dody’s point – OpenDoc *is* currently a standard document format, it’s got an open specification and is used by OpenOffice and several other tools. It’s obviously not in as widespread use as Word’s current closed format, but it’s more of a standard simply because more than one company’s tools use it.

  31. ““Microsoft is in effect asking everyone to abandon all the work that has been done on and with the OpenDocument XML standard and wait for Office Open XML.””

    When the hell did OpenDoc is a “standard”? Just because of a bunch of non-Microsoft folks/companies come up with a document format doesn’t make it a standard. Calling OpenDoc a standard is pure bullshit. Microsoft .doc format is the facto standard for document right now; just like PDF, just by the merit of their popular usage.

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