Bonum Certa Men Certa

From Binary to XML: So Much Hype, So Little Difference

Microsoft (and its business partners) wishes to reject or ignore all arguments that the "XML" in OOXML demonstrates a truly abysmal use and implementation of the principles and raison d’être of XML. See our notes on the choice of the name "Open XML" and ECMA's refusal to make amendments which prevent confusion.

“Microsoft (via its proxy, ECMA) wishes people to believe that OOXML is no longer application- and platform-dependent...”Microsoft (via its proxy, ECMA) wishes people to believe that OOXML is no longer application- and platform-dependent and that OOXML is interoperable. Not quite so! Not so fast! So say a couple of new articles, one of which comes from the former manager of Microsoft's Excel and the other from an XML expert.

Remind yourself of what was said yesterday and the day before that about the incompleteness of Microsoft's Office binary format and also about their purpose. Now, consider the words of Joel Sposky, who knows Microsoft's technology quite intimately because he worked as a senior there before going more solo.

They [binary Office formats] were not designed with interoperability in mind. The assumption, and a fairly reasonable one at the time, was that the Word file format only had to be read and written by Word. That means that whenever a programmer on the Word team had to make a decision about how to change the file format, the only thing they cared about was (a) what was fast and (b) what took the fewest lines of code in the Word code base.

[...]

They have to reflect all the complexity of the applications. Every checkbox, every formatting option, and every feature in Microsoft Office has to be represented in file formats somewhere. That checkbox in Word’s paragraph menu called “Keep With Next” that causes a paragraph to be moved to the next page if necessary so that it’s on the same page as the paragraph after it? That has to be in the file format.


So, things have changed, says Microsoft. We are expected to believe that both problems have been resolved, right? Look what the following new article says about OOXML:

If Microsoft wants OOXML to be taken seriously as a proposal for a document standard, only one option is on the table. Rather than try to develop a specification with every possible feature of any version of Microsoft Office, every flag or quirk that some document might use, focus on building a smaller, leaner, interchange format which provides core functionality in a fully-described and implementable fashion. Don't expose implementation quirks, such as Excel€® calculation chains, to people who just want to copy a spreadsheet's data and formulas. Don't expose, or even refer to, the details of the VML library, or the DrawingML library, or anything like that; instead, provide a brand new, open, and completely specified, description of the data.

When I wrote the Standards & Specs piece on XML some time back, I made an offhand reference to the notion of an XML format containing "<bytes>ff ff 00 03 [. . .]</bytes>". When I wrote it, I thought I was joking. I guess I wasn't.


This case can be left to rest and this concludes another good proof that not much has changed after so much hype and propaganda from Microsoft's direction. OOXML inherits the same deficiencies as those old binary files. But it has a nice name. Open. XML. It's only make believe. And a whole lot of money!

OOXML data vacuum

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