Microsoft To Bind Office 12 More Tightly To XML

A company executive was quick to note, however, that the new applications will also support the traditional binary .doc, .xl, and .ppt formats, but unless users designate otherwise, their work will save to the XML choice. The default format can be changed during or after deployment.

Backward compatibility with current file formats is also important. An Office 12 recipient of a Word 2000 file, for example, can open that file, and any changes made to it would automatically save back to the original application's native file format.

"The round-trip will be seamless," said Takeshi Numoto, senior director in Microsoft's Information Worker Product Management Group.

If this scenario works as planned, it should please users who have, in the past, been burned by Microsoft format changes even within the same product line. Microsoft plans to talk more about Open XML and Office 12 at TechEd 2005 this week in Orlando, Fla.

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In addition, IT will be able to designate whether an executable file embedded in documents can run or not, Numoto said.

A document designated with a .docx suffix, for example, will neuter embedded .exe files while one with a .docm suffix will allow them to run.

Numoto said Microsoft will publish the format specifications and schemas in advance of the product launch. The current Office 2003 allows users to save Word and Excel documents to Microsoft WordML and SpreadsheetML (XML) formats. Office 12 adds PowerPoint to the mix. Numoto said the new formats will be completely compliant with the XML 1.0 standard.

The file formats were designed to efficiently encapsulate different data types, Numoto said. The total file is zipped for compression, but individual components also are compressed. "In some cases, we see file sizes cut 75 percent," Numoto said.

Microsoft has been doling out tidbits about Office 12 more proactively as the fall 2005 beta approaches.

One longtime partner was unimpressed with the XML support message. "Unless they're introducing inherent support for SAML or external access to documents to truly facilitate document security, it's not that big a deal," the partner said.