Office as next Battleground

Microsoft’s Battle Lines Shifting to Office?, asks

The new OASIS Open Office XML Format Technical Committee will base its work off of the XML file format specification designed by Sun for its 1.0 project — an open source office productivity suite which Sun hopes will help it break open Microsoft’s grip on the office productivity application market.

“Our goal is to achieve consensus on an open standard that will protect content — whether it is an 800-page airplane specification or a legal contract — from being locked into a proprietary file format,” said Sun’s Michael Brauer, chair of the new technical committee. “A standard method for processing and interchanging office documents will enable companies to own their data and freely choose tools to view and edit information long after originating applications have come and gone.”

That appears to be a direct assault on the XML-based technology Microsoft has been developing for the forthcoming Office 11 update of its Office applications family. By using XML throughout the Office suite, Microsoft aims to make content generated in the applications fully portable from application to application.

“Microsoft’s vision for Office 11 is to seamlessly connect the information worker to the different islands of data in the enterprise, whether the data is contained in Microsoft Word documents, email messages, an internal company database, or even an external third-party database,” Jean Paoli, the XML architect at Microsoft and a co-creator of the W3C’s XML 1.0 specification, said in October.

“Microsoft sees Office as the “ultimate” rich client for XML and Web Services on the desktop, and they’re right,” said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst with XML and Web services research firm ZapThink. “They are going to be turning Office 11 into more than just a suite of office applications, but into a productivity center that most people can run their daily operations off of. Excel, Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint serve the basis for most individual’s daily tasks in any case.”

He added, “So, clearly, Sun, Corel, the Linux folks, and anyone else with desktop aspirations sees this trend as poisonous to their own efforts. They don’t want Microsoft to get any more hold on the market than they currently have, and by controlling the “format,” they believe they can control the features. Basically, if Microsoft can’t come out with some proprietary feature that is supported by the data format, then their innovation will be stifled. Obviously, Microsoft doesn’t want to kow-tow with any group that could potentially stifle their innovation.

Windows and Office are the two cash cows for Microsoft. Both are coming under threat – from Linux and OpenOffice/StarOffice. The Office franchise is more important for Microsoft long-term as its lock on the file formats and documents gives it the base to penetrate the enterprise software market.


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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.