back to article Microsoft puts dusty, old Office code on web

Microsoft has made technical information for its older binary Office document formats available for download following pressure from participants in the ongoing, somewhat fiery, standardisation debate. Redmond's Office programme manager Brian Jones said in a blog post this week that the documentation will be accessible via …


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  1. Duncan Hothersall

    the "other format"

    Ah, I see, ODF is now the other format vying for acceptance; funny, I thought it was the already widely supported ISO standard. That's the great thing about FUD - even if it is demonstrably rubbish and immediately exposed, it can still have an effect.

    OOXML is nothing more or less than a spoiling tactic. Sadly it appears to be working tremendously well.

  2. Jamie Swithenbank

    ODF is already an ISO standard.

    You state that ODF is battling in the ISO race - this is misleading - ODF already IS _the_ ISO standard.

    It took the slow track, lasting a total of 5 years, and was approved as the ISO document standard last year.

    Microsoft however has tried to fast-track it's own document format through, via ECMA, to be an ISO standard and has so far failed. This is partly due to the many problems with the standard it's self that they are trying to propose (rather than using existing ISO methods of doing things, it difines it's own ways, making it over 6000 pages long, and despite this still incomplete to the extent not all required methods are fully defined) - and partly due to the fact that the un-bribed ISO members question the wisdom of having more than one ISO standard for the same thing (office documents)

    There is also concern among the ISO members that under the 'standard' proposed by microsoft, it would retain complete control over the standard - rather the more traditional approach of having it controlled by the ISO.

    This is not a 'race' to become an ISO standard - ODF is already there, it already won that race - Microsoft however doesnt want a standard that it doesnt exclusively control.... it doesnt want a standard unrestricted by microsoft patents... it doesnt want a standard without the ability to have undocumented 'extensions' which would allow it to taint a document in such a way that only microsoft software would be able to accurately render it - it wants OOXML instead.

  3. Jamie Swithenbank
    Gates Horns

    RE: the other format

    At least El Reg is being honest about this article and filling the rest of the page also with paid-for microsoft adverts (in my browser anyway)

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Can Microsoft ever win?

    Sometimes I think there are some people who will never accept ANYTHING Microsoft does whether for good or not.

    Take this example: the way I see it Microsoft could have:

    1. Ignored any attempts to open up their specifications

    2. Adopted ODF and had to put back their products capabilites by 2 releases or so

    3. Published old binary formats and proposed them as a standard

    4. Adopted an Open Standard like XML as the basis for futher formats (as they had been pressed to do) and them put the specs in public domain and handed over control to third party organisations going forward

    If they had done 1 (the easy option) they would have been slammed. If they had done 2 it would mean their spreadsheet could not have even saved all the features of the previous release let alone the current one and many (maybe even most) Word Documents would have lost formatting when being saved so this was never a likely option. If they had done 3 they would have been criticised for not following standards. And they actually have done 4 and still seem to be criticised.

    So I ask the previous poster - what SHOULD Microsoft have done?

  5. The_Police!
    Thumb Up

    @ Anonymous Coward

    Totally agree with you there!

  6. Henry Gomersall

    Re: Can Microsoft ever win?

    > So I ask the previous poster - what SHOULD Microsoft have done?

    Worked with the standards body on the development of ODF such that it could be integrated nicely into MS's product line.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Can Microsoft ever win?

    MS should accept the ODF standard, and your assumption / premise that it would put back MS Office "by 2 years" is nonsense.

    Most of the "new and innovative" junk that MS puts into Office on each release is just that - junk. When I use the Word 2007, I don;t do anything with it that I didn;t do with Word 95! Except maybe swear at it a bit more and question why it has grown out of all proportion to the functionality it provides.

    So when you say that Word can't save its formatting in ODF, WHAT formatting are you talking about? Bold, italics, underline? Different font? Different font size? Which of these can not be accommodated in ODF? I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that ODF may not be able to handle formats such as embedded video or audio, of GIF files, but who the hell wants this crap in thir documents anyway, and what use is any of this when the idea of a word processor is primarily to make documents that are to be printed out on paper?

  8. Jamie Swithenbank
    Gates Horns

    RE: Can Microsoft ever win?

    Your point 2 shows a lack of in-depth knowledge of the isssue... understandable though because it is a piece of Microsoft FUD

    ODF is an extensible XML ISO standard - it has the ability to incorporate all ISO standards in order to store extended and meta information about documents.

    It's a very flexible container, which microsoft could use to represent ANY document they currently create.

    Did you know that between office 2000 and office 2003, the binary format microsoft used to store files didnt change? Macros etc and application capabilities changed somewhat - but Excel 2000 can open a file saved in Excel 2003...

    ODF has nothing to do with the capabilities of the application using it.

    In fact the rather odd thing is, considering people make this point about ODF somehow being inferior, is that comparing the ISO standards for ODF (v1.2, not actually fully implemented by any application yet - so go ahead MS if you want to) and OOXML - ODF actually contains considerably more functionality and flexibility than OOXML, including a featureset for accessibility for the disabled that OOXML does not even touch on.

    Another thing to remember for those with sketchy memories is that Microsoft was on the board developping ODF, and only left when OASIS rejected the submission of material microsoft was retaining the patent on, into a required section of the standard - OASIS instead opted to gain the same functionality using methods that NOBODY held the patent to.

    Go actually look at the standard (not the applications implementing only part of the standard, applications that are playing catch-up with regard to featureset with microsoft) - when you find anything that microsoft can implement in their file format, that cannot be represented in ODF then come back and talk to me... until then take the MS FUD with a pinch of salt.

    Also, your point 4: They have not done this - the criticism comes from the fact that they have created their own standard... their "standard" xml contains definitions like "Render RTF like Word 95 does" - i'm terribly sorry but this is something ONLY MS could do.... They also define their own way of handling dates, tables and many other things - things there ARE ISO standards for, but MS has defined their own custom, may i add, patented, ways of handling them - that's why the MS "standard" proposal is 4x the length of the average ISO standard (6000 pages)

    Microsoft were invited to propose any additions to ODF that they felt needed to improve functionality - instead they proposed their own new standard which does not reference existing international standards.

    This is the source of the criticism... it's not a case of "poor old MS can't do anything right!"

  9. Jamie Swithenbank

    @ Embedded video / audio / Gif

    Actually this kind of meta-data is supported in ODF by means of it's ISO extensions mechanism.

  10. Paul Talbot

    re: Can Microsoft ever win?

    No, you're missing the problem a lot of us have with this.

    Microsoft were invited to work on the ODF format and help create the new open standard. They refused, preferring to create their own format with obfuscated binary elements. Despite the complete specifications for ODF being available, they had to be bullied into creating any kind of support for it, which is available to some degree via a plugin, open sourced as 3rd parties got there first.

    They've only agreed to open up OOXML to any degree due to the fact that customers were starting to adopt ODF over their own standard - a standard partially protected by patents they've threatened to use against competitors. Now, they're fighting to get their standard accepted as an ISO standard, and to help this they've decided to open up some of their old formats - formats, let we forget, that not even Micorsoft were ever interested in implementing to any degree of consistency (as evidenced by problems using old MS standards in new Office suites). I would suspect that opening old formats is a way of deflecting ongoing criticisms of antitrust and the like

    No, this is Microsoft up to its old games. Of your 4 points, #1 would have been subject to lawsuits like the EU prosecutions that are happening at the moment, #2 required little extra work and has happened anyway with 3rd party pressure (plug ins exist for using ODF on Office), #3 wasn't a possibility as MS wanted a new format to overcome limitations and inconsistencies of the old formats, and #4 seems to be what they're trying to do, just forcing OOXML instead of an existing standard.

    In short, the "easy option" would have been to play ball with everyone else and help shape ODF to their needs. MS didn't want to play nice and wanted its own format, which shows us doubters little reason to think they've changed their outlook in any way.

  11. PG
    Gates Horns

    History lesson for "Can Microsoft ever win?"

    Or what they *did* do:

    5. Panic* over MASS, and other governments, declaring that only Open Formats would be acceptable, so forcing Microsoft's hand into adopting an Open Standard like XML (which is only a description of how the data is constructed in the file). But since we're Microsoft and we can't be using none of that ISO-approved open formats, we'll just invent our own OOXML format so yes, sure, you can read the format, but we sure as hell aren't going to tell you how to make an OOXML document fully with all the MS Office bells and whistles (oh, and we'll also have the ability to add proprietary shizzle).



  12. Steve Anderson

    Re: "Can Microsoft ever win"

    Just to further the arguments against Anonymous Coward's point 4, Microsoft never, ever put anything into the public domain. The most you'll get from them is a revocable, free license with a whole bunch of restrictions. And what you actually get to see isn't everything you need to see, as other correspondents point out - you try and write some code that you can guarantee will always perform correctly when you're faced with a tag like [UseWord97MarginBehavior]true[/UseWord97MarginBehavior] and the documentation provides no information further than "Use the same margin behavior as Word 97."

    OOXML is nothing more than Microsoft using their subservient user base as a means to thumb their nose at genuine standards by forcing in a de facto one.

  13. Simon Greenwood
    Gates Horns

    re: Can Microsoft ever win?

    That would be nice if 4 were true, but it isn't. The standard as published is essentially the documentation that Office's formats have never had, rather than some proposal for interoperability. There is binary code embedded in those formats, which isn't open and isn't documented and so there is no way in which another producer or vendor could implement them. The other options that you see are also correct, up to a point. For example, Office97 was supposed to create some degree of openness in adopting XML for the document container framework and to an extent the schema was successful, but it was still wrapped in proprietary binary code which required filters to be written to import it into other systems.

    Publishing a 'standard' was not about encouraging interoperability as it would take a huge amount of manpower to convert 6000 pages of 'documentation' into filters and other handling mechanisms for OpenOffice or any other office suite: it was about Microsoft being able to hold up their hands and say that they released it. It's a measure of the company's arrogance that they then expected it to be adopted as a standard without any question.

    Microsoft can't win because they expect to, and given the recent discussions about the preservation of documents and their subsequent rejection of older formats in the name of 'security' in a service pack, they don't deserve to.

  14. Ian Peters
    Gates Horns

    ps: its not Open Office XML

    Its Office Open XML and its a spoiler format and name.

  15. Ian Peters
    Gates Horns

    Open Office XML - its a spoiler name

    As you have fallen for the trap of getting it arse-about-face - its supposed to be Office Open XML

  16. David Tonhofer Silver badge

    What SHOULD Microsoft have done?

    ... JUST ... DIE .... ALREADY ...

    (makes swinging motions with a flamethrower)

  17. John

    @Paul Talbot

    "which shows us doubters little reason to think they've changed their outlook in any way."

    Pun intended? ;-)



  18. Charlie van Becelaere
    Paris Hilton

    re: Can Microsoft ever win?

    One certainly hopes not.

  19. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle


    “Microsoft never, ever put anything into the public domain”

    Eh? RTF, anyone? It is a public standard, easy to write, can represent textual and object markup as nothing more than a stream of 8-bit ASCII code …

    PERFECTION! Easy to read, easy to code, everything in the universe can read it.

    All this brou-ha-ha over XML OO horseshit is laughable.

  21. BitTwister

    @Jamie Swithenbank & Paul Talbot

    Thanks guys - the *real* situation concisely and very well noted. It's to be hoped that the truth will out long before Microsoft is able to inflict further harm with this nasty and deliberately counterproductive mess of a "standard".

  22. Mick

    Open Office is NOT the only software that can read ODF!

    IBM symphony, Lotus Documents/Spreadsheet, and soon other open source software. True these other software apps represent a tiny fraction of the actual market,but the fact they make up the market bar one large heavily fined in the EU for anti trust practices company of Redmond descent. Hint they dont have any coloured hats!!

    But on another note what really galls me is the reason my own government will not stand up to them here in Ireland, they are our largest tax contributor. So yet again MicroSoft flexes its muscles even at the tax man!

    Tis a great little country we live in!

    Wouldnt surprise me if they were the ones stuffing brown envelopes either for politicians all these years in europe and still doing it as even our own MEPs are reluctant to stand up them.


  23. Crossbow


    Open Office isn't as good as MS office, it's true. On the other hand, for 99% of tasks, it is entirely adequate, and is also free. Given a choice between using OO and buying Office 2007 (for a stupid fee, with crap backwards compatibility) its OO for me. If I wanted excel based databases (why? its a spreadsheet ffs) I might think differently. OO does pretty much everything I need, without a cost my (small sole prop) business can't justify.

    As good... no. Good enough, yes. Far easier to save a .doc from OO than to piss around with .docx

  24. John Angelico

    @Ian Peters

    "Open Office XML (OOXML)"

    Naughty, naughty Vultures.

    Please return to Burton Group for your re-education program in correct Microsoft nomenclature.


  25. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Whatever happened to

    Good old ASCII? Why is it that we keep dicking around with formatting, bold, italics, margins, tables with borders, and so on? Sure, for publication these are all great things, but for archival?

    It's more than readily apparent that document formats change, and differing products have differing storage formats and life spans. If we look back at document storage formats back to the 80's word processors, could we still open those with "modern" software?

    Save a document in plain ASCII, tables formatted by tabs and spaces, pictures saved in some patent-unincumbered format, and be done with it. Keep .doc, .docx, .sxc, .odf, or .wtf for current publishing.

    It's been told to me that PDF hasn't changed much over the years. A PDF generated with Acrobat 4 can be opened without a problem in Acrobat 8. Before then? Could PDF make a viable archival solution when concerned about maintaining formatting, margins, pictures, and what-not?

    It seems to me that we're spending a whole lot of time with all of these continually expanding and extended formats when maybe we might just look at simple solutions. At least until we can get over this "I want MY format to be the Alpha and Omega, and you will pay me for it" rubbish.

    Paris because document standards seem to have similar life-span and security as her boyfriends and contact list.

  26. ad47uk

    not possible to compare

    How can anyone compare MS office with they are not in the same market. For 99% of home users is more than ample. MS office tries too hard, I remember when a word processor was a word processor and that was it. If you want to do newsletters then you used a Desktop publishing software.

    I got office 2007, but only because a mate had a spare license. I would otherwise use

  27. BitTwister

    @Whatever happened to

    > It's more than readily apparent that document formats change (...) pictures saved in some patent-unincumbered format

    These, and the other points you mention are precisely what an open, peer-approved and published document format is designed to solve. That'll be ODF, then...

    > we're spending a whole lot of time with all of these continually expanding and extended formats when maybe we might just look at simple solutions.

    See above.

    BTW, there's much more to the preservation of documents than you realise - publishing is but one reason for preserving layout among many others, for which plain ol' ASCII cannot possibly be considered. For example, there needs to be some way of representing mathematical formulas but probably the main reason is that plain ol' ASCII (or at least, what I suspect you mean) is only of use when representing the basic character set of one small group on the planet. All the others would have to make do with 'some to none' characters represented. That's not much of a document format, really. ;)

    In any case, ASCII ain't what it used to be:

  28. yeah, right.
    Gates Horns


    Odd how they've only done this AFTER the E.U. has initiated action against Microsoft for not doing something very similar. It's almost as if Microsoft had no intention of doing it until a government with the competition interest at heart (rather than simply promoting corporate monopolies) decided that enough was enough.

    Also, note that their terms are specifically incompatible with GPL and other open source efforts. Not only that, others (Groklaw is one, there are others) have started to analyse what they're ACTUALLY saying vs what they CLAIM to be offering, and the two don't seem to be matching up very well. Seems to be more smoke and mirrors just before the ISO vote.

    Golly, who would have thought that Microsoft would try to trick people like that? They've always been so honest and above board in all their dealings... [choke].

  29. Anonymous Coward


    Of course MS will win. Even when it loses it will win as it has sufficient resource and long term view to do so.

    On the other hand, the dynamics to do-ability are helpful sector-wide.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    "So I ask the previous poster - what SHOULD Microsoft have done?"

    I'm not the previous poster, but surely it is clear to everybody (including Microsoft) what they SHOULD have done.

    ODF is the accepted and approved standard and therefore any enhancements need to be just that -- enhancements, not a lock stock and barrel replacement.

    So -- identify what if anything is missing from ODF, and propose a manner of implementing it. LISTEN to comments from others, and MODIFY the proposals to take account of those comments. Finally, get agreement on those revised proposals and modify your implementation to COMPLY with what has been agreed.

    That's the way that standards work. Standards don't happen by doing your own thing and then trying to bulldoze everybody that wants to do it in a different but more PROPER manner.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    What are you THINKING?


    "For example, there needs to be some way of representing mathematical formulas"

    TeX has been around for more than thirty years. It is a simple standard, anyone can write a TeX parser and it is well-documented. The file format is PLAIN ASCII.

    Nothing above 128 needs to be stored in an ascii file format other than using SGML style entities like ÿ or ⊍

    Style codes and markup can be extremely simple and it isn't a file format that is going to go away any time soon.

    What's the problem? Why are we wasting time reinventing the wheel by committee, in the name of God?

    This is what is so wrong about IT today. Its full of clueless idiots with no historical perspective.

  32. Andre Caldas

    @Greg Flamering

    So, we should just use base64 for jpeg and claim it is just plain ascii!

    No... I had one idea, let's just represent anything as a combination of the characters 0 and 1. Every interoperability problem will be automatically solved as we will be using just a tiny subset of plain ascii.

  33. Andre Caldas
    Dead Vulture

    Reason for fast-track.

    Why is is on a fast-track anyway?

    So, because Microsoft was not far-sighted enough to start implementing the proposed ISO standard that was on track for 5 years - besides having a chair in the committee, then it is an excuse for putting the Microsoft standard into a fast-track?

    Oh, God! We need a new standard very quick because Microsoft did not try to implement the real standard!!

    Putting it on a fast-track can becompared to a government saying: "The government doesn't have time for this so called democracy because the government deals with really important 'real-world' stuff and does not have the time to do things properly." Let's just give Microsoft full power to decide what should be and what should not be the standard. After all, it is an urgent matter: We are in 2008, and the product is called Office2007! We need to make it the standard as fast as we can.

    (The dead bird is the democratic ISO process)

  34. Andre Caldas
    Paris Hilton

    TeX (@Greg)

    "TeX has been around for more than thirty years. It is a simple standard, anyone can write a TeX parser and it is well-documented. The file format is PLAIN ASCII."

    The file format is not PLAIN ASCII, you dumb. It is TeX, as you said yourself!

    If you use TeX and I use MathXYZ, then we do not use the same "standard". And we certainly do not use an "international standard" for representing formulas.

    (I don't know why I am using Paris. I don't know her and actually have no reason to believe she is stupid)

  35. Aubry Thonon

    It seems to me...

    ...that anyone putting forward a standard for approval (and an *international* standard at that) should immediately be made to relinquish any and all patents (etc) contained there-in.

    In other words, if the standard you are putting forward requires you to use method X, patent #1234, then you've just agreed to put method X, patent #1234 into the public domain.

    If you don't want to release the patents, *don't* put it forward as an approved standard and see how well you can do on its commercial merits alone.

  36. Tim Bates
    Thumb Up

    Re: It seems to me...

    Yes! They should.

    What's the point of a standard that says, "BTW, if you use this, you must pay the patent holder royalties"?

  37. Anonymous Coward

    ODF vs OpenOffice

    Will you people *please* stop equating the ODF standard with the OpenOffice product.

    Yes stores its files in ODF format, and yes in some respects is clumsier that its M$ equivalents (Although it evolves to a more useable product each release).

    That has *nothing* to do with the ODF standard, which as other posters have already put forward, is a rich and well thought out standard which any other application can use, including M$ products if the feel like it.

  38. Robert Harrison

    In an ideal world...

    Microsoft would put ODF support into their product line. This would make me happy as I use Openoffice at home and MS Office at work. Then just think, Microsoft Office could purely compete on quality/usability of the actual suite, sod the whole file format issue. People who wanted the all-singing all-dancing ribbon bar, help features, etc etc could buy MS Office. People who wanted something cheaper that still did everything they needed could download Openoffice. Maybe this is the meat and veg of the issue, no?

    I must admit that I get on with Openoffice 2 more easily than I do with Office 2007, but I guess its because I'm not used to the ribbon bar yet. No problems with 2003.

    Note also for all/anyone saying that Openoffice is lacking features/functionality. As an example, I've produced and maintained a DTP-style newsletter document for several years now through Openoffice 1 to 2, using neat overlapping text boxes, graphics etc. Openoffice does a very good job of flowing text around the overlapping boxes whilst incorporating graphics and other formatting, i.e Functionalty I would consider to be beyond the capability of a 'simple' office application.

  39. BitTwister

    @Greg Fleming

    /me: "For example, there needs to be some way of representing mathematical formulas"

    > TeX has been around for more than thirty years. (...) The file format is PLAIN ASCII.

    Yes I know - but as someone else mentioned, the file format is TeX which like ODF and RTF, happens to be expressed in ASCII. I was commenting on a post which advocated documents formatted using tabs, spaces & plain ASCII, and I understood this to mean a plaintext document containing nothing but unadorned and literal text. No markup whatever.

    > This is what is so wrong about IT today. Its full of clueless idiots with no historical perspective.

    Yes indeed. And quite a few who, having missed the point, steam off on a tangent.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The basics

    Standard: Something that anyone can freely find the detailed specifications for and implement. Also, is controlled by a consortium, not a single entity.

    It is really the second one that is the problem. Microsoft is the one controlling entity. They can change the "standard" on a whim without peer review. Again, they could be benevolent, but the problem is they don't have to.

    OOXML v.2, whatever Microsoft wants it to be. (Or even v.1.1)

    In time even a 6000+ page spec could be implemented by others with adequate assistance from Microsoft. The problem is, who could meet version 1.1 when Microsoft has already implemented it in their applications and then 2-4-12 months later others could eventually "catch up", again requiring help from Microsoft as they made the changes to the standard.

    Ultimately it is about the CONTROL OF THE STANDARD.


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