The next version of Microsoft Office is going to be the first which uses ‘open’ file formats by default. There’s a video here where Robert Scoble interviews Brian Jones, a program manager on the Word team, about the new formats, which are ZIP files containing XML. Brian has also started a blog talking about this.
This is definitely a good move, and a brave one, by Microsoft, though I imagine they have largely been forced into it and may not have had too much choice. The secret binary formats have been reverse-engineered now to such a degree that several other packages, most notably OpenOffice and Apple iLife, do a good, though not perfect job, of reading them, so there’s less to be gained form keeping them secret. And having moved both my email and my blogs between many different systems recently, a key question for me is always how easily I can get my data out of any particular system. This announcement will make me more likely, rather than less likely, to use Microsoft products in future.
The sad thing, for me, was to hear the excitement and enthusiasm in Scoble’s voice about what a fabulous new idea this was, when he should have been asking, “Isn’t this exactly what OpenOffice has been doing for years, right down to the choice of the basic format?”
When was the last time anything really novel came out of Microsoft? It’s a rhetorical question, really. What Microsoft have traditionally been good at is now so commoditized that it’s like asking when the last time something really novel came out of Dell. That’s not really their job any more.