Thursday, June 01, 2006

...a bit more on Microsoft file formats:

So, inquisitive guy that I am, I decided to do a little bit of digging around to see how exactly OpenXML relates to the Windows operating system. I initially looked for stuff about OpenXML and Windows Vista, but came up a bit short.

Searching about for OpenXML and Longhorn, however, bore some fruit. Apparently, there's a less-talked-about, but similar format designed specifically for Longhorn called "Metro" (the question being asked is about OpenXML):

Q. Is this the same thing as Microsoft Windows Metro?

A. No. Office XML Formats use some of the conventions described in the Windows Metro Specification, however, the formats are different in several important ways. Metro is a paginated, fixed document format introduced for Microsoft Windows Longhorn. The Office XML Formats are fully editable file formats for Microsoft Office Word, Microsoft Office Excel, and Microsoft Office PowerPoint. While they share similarities in their use of XML and ZIP compression, they are different in file format design and intended usage.

Hmm...interesting. I'd never heard of "Metro" before, but apparently it is a cousin to OpenXML. The next question/answer pair on that page is:

Q. Do Windows Metro and Office XML Formats have the same archiving features?

A. No. While both formats utilize XML and ZIP, they are designed with different purposes in mind. Metro is a layout-focused document format being introduced by Windows Longhorn to allow customers to effortlessly create, share, print, and archive documents. Office XML Formats are new default file formats that will be used specifically in Microsoft Office Word, Microsoft Office Excel, and Microsoft Office PowerPoint to enable more rapid creation of documents from disparate data sources, facilitating document assembly as well as data-mining scenarios.

They don't mention specifically what types of documents you're supposed to be able to effortlessly create here, but then, this is a page talking about OpenXML, not Metro. Time for some more digging:

Along with its new look, Vista is introducing a new Microsoft document format, XPS (XML Paper Specification). Documents created with XPS can be shared with people who don't have the originating application but do have an XPS viewer; Microsoft showed an XPS document being viewed in Internet Explorer. While not nearly as full featured as Adobe's popular PDF format, XPS is intended primarily to speed up and improve the quality of printing.

So, XPS (formerly known as Metro) seems to be Microsoft's way of removing Adobe's hold on easy-to-share documents...that's an awful lot of trouble to go through to preempt PDF, dontcha think? Well, I suppose coupled with OpenXML, it covers everything. No need to use non-Microsoft file formats for any type of document at that point.

There is a place where you can download samples to look at, and as someone who does a fair bit of programming on Windows machines, I was inclined to take a peek.

Unfortunately, in order to download the documents, you must agree not to give any part of the materials to anyone else, which, I suppose, would include posting snippets of them on a blog, so you'll have to go look at them yourself. There does not, however, seem to be any prohibition against discussing the files, so I'll do that. If you want details, you'll have to look yourself.

Basically, all of the XPS/Metro examples are 2-dimensional (well, some have layers, but that's not exactly 3-D). So, going back to Microsoft's Vista app showcase, we look at Right Hemisphere and what they are bringing to the mix.

If you look here, you'll find some details about "Deep Publish" and "Deep View", which are software plug-ins designed to work with Acrobat and Office to allow you to publish, view, and interact with 3-D content within those applications:

Deep Publish™ At A Glance

Right Hemisphere's Deep Publish lets you easily publish, view, and share 2D and 3D graphics using Microsoft™ PowerPoint™, Word™, Excel™ and Adobe® Acrobat®.

With Deep Publish you can:

  • Publish 2D and 3D graphics in Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat

  • View and interact with 2D and 3D graphics in Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, and/or
    on the Web

  • Easily share 2D and 3D graphics

Designed for non-engineering professionals, Deep Publish leverages industry standard desktop applications and eliminates the need for engineering involvement whenever complex 2D and 3D product graphics are needed.

Ala "Stac Technologies' stacker data compression software, Microsoft saw an existing application that did something they wanted to do (and maybe *needed* to do, since they appear to have angered the folks at Adobe), and brought them on-board. It's not clear what the relationship is, right now, or whether Microsoft will be making a technology purchase (most documents created these days are decidedly 2-dimensional), but this appears to be a good way to cover a hole in capability.

You may ask why this would even be necessary, and OpenDocument's ISO-approved "dr3d" namespace might be a good reason why. OpenOffice Draw can already create 3-D objects, which are saved natively in ODF format (Click "View -> Toolbars -> 3D Toolbar", if you can't figure out how to add 3D shapes...I'd never done it before).

So, here we have a situation that may well be only at the beginning of the "heated discussion" stage. Microsoft, proprietary software vendor, and creator of innumerable file formats, has a past history of adding proprietary extensions to existing standards.

To boot, Adobe is apparently not all that happy with something (XPS, maybe?) about the way Microsoft is including PDF support in Microsoft Office 2007. That might cause some trouble for the integration they propose to give Vista users with the help of Right Hemisphere.

Prohibitions in what is allowable licensing-wise in present and future versions of ODF would seem to prevent Microsoft from taking control of the standard and putting up barriers to implementation for other software vendors (I'm checking on that, to be sure), so the only real angle Microsoft can pursue right now is dominance through a new, compelling, ubiquitous file format that people prefer to the alternatives.

As long as ODF exists as a universal standard, however, that march to dominance will be a long, challenging, and possibly fruitless path. If I had to bet on it, I'd say that you can expect quite a bit of spin from Microsoft in the near future about any percieved issues with anything ODF-related.

My money is on ODF in this fight, but you can bet Microsoft will come out swinging.

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