Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Doctor X: Open wide and say Ahh

I was curious about how easy it really is to open a DOCX file and what the XML underneath really looks like. So what was the natural thing to try? I created a one word document in Office 2007 and opened it in Notepad. Aha! It looks like garbage. It's not XML after all.

Well, that's what I thought until I googled it and found that a docx file is really just a zip file. Excel and Powerpoint files should be similar to the Word ones, but I haven't tried opening those up yet. If you change the file extension from .docx to .zip, you can open the file in your favorite compression program (Winzip, PKZip, WinRAR, Windows' Compressed Folders, etc.) Within that zip file, you'll find any pictures you insert into your document and various other files containing the content and formatting.

I haven't delved into it yet, but according to Microsoft you should be able to update a bunch of files in a batch process, which seems like a cool idea. Others complain that as a standard, the OOXML format doesn't cut it. They're being investigated by the EU for vote rigging to get their format ISO-approved. Others point out that with Bill Gates gone, Microsoft is trying to change to fit in better with the new collaborative culture, but that their own company culture may be too deeply ingrained for them to be able to truly play nicely with others - like the bully that beats up on the other kids, then goes home and cries that he has no friends.

When OpenOffice 3.0 comes out later this year, it should have support for for OOXML, which will be nice. I haven't heard much about whether OpenOffice will take any GUI lessons from Office 2007, but I doubt they will. Keeping the classic look is a selling point to many who are frustrated with the new GUI. I personally think that Microsoft changed the look and feel of their product in order to make it harder to use other office suites. It is a difficult transition to 2007, but people will do it because they are addicted to using the latest version of MS Office. Look at when the released Internet Explorer 7. Everyone complained that things moved around and it was more difficult to use, how they put the Stop, Reload, and Home buttons in different places and hid the menu bar, but no one complains anymore. You get used to it quickly, but then try going back to using IE 6 or Firefox and things aren't where you relearned that they should be. It makes Firefox feel old and clunky and hard to use. I think that is their goal now in the office suite market after testing reaction to a minor GUI change in their web browser. As people force themselves to learn Office 2007, it will become easy and intuitive, but they will forget how to use the classic GUI and will feel lost when trying to use OpenOffice. So I'm really torn when it comes to OpenOffice copying Office 2007's GUI outright, but I do think Openoffice should at least try to round off some edges and make it look a bit more modern.

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