Microsoft Opens XML Schemas for Office 2003

Hoping to shift industry focus to the company’s new “kindler, gentler” business approach, Microsoft has announced the availability of royalty-free licensing of its Office 2003 XML reference schemas and documentation.

Long resented for its closed, proprietary software and facing increased competition from Linux and other open-source alternatives, Microsoft is promoting integration of its Office 2003 software by offering the schemas — the structural underpinnings — of the latest Word and Excel applications as well as a new information-gathering tool called InfoPath.

Meta Group vice president Steve Kleynhans told TechNewsWorld that the Redmond, Washington-based software giant wants to elevate Office 2003 to “another level” and make the software the workbench, rather than the tools, of today’s workers.

“Microsoft wants those tools embedded in all of the processes that a worker’s involved in,” Kleynhans said. “In order to do that, they realize that the world doesn’t exist on Microsoft applications.”

Opening Up

Making the announcement in Copenhagen, Denmark — where the government there is the first to use the Office 2003 XML reference schemas to take advantage of interoperability to exchange data with other applications — Microsoft said the strategy builds on its commitment to XML as the “next-generation technology for integrating applications, services and data sources.”

Microsoft made the Word schemas (called WordprocessingML) available for download right away, while schemas for Excel (SpreadsheetML) and InfoPath (FormTemplate XML) will be available beginning December 5th.

Kleynhans said Microsoft is trying to dispel negative perceptions about its proprietariness and refusal to make its products interoperable.

“The challenge is to find the point at which they’ve gone far enough for enough of the market that they get the payback they want without going too far to where they’re giving away the company jewels and devaluing their products,” Kleynhans said.

Kinder, Gentler Microsoft

Yankee Group senior analyst Laura DiDio, referring to Microsoft’s focus and reliance on XML in its new and forthcoming products, said the issuance of XML schemas is a matter of common sense from a technical perspective.

DiDio, who indicated customers are surprised by the flexibility and level of accommodation from Microsoft, told TechNewsWorld that the release of the schemas is part of Microsoft’s effort to win customer confidence and trust — forced by the economic downturn and heavier competition.

“This is one cog in the wheel, but an important one because they’re trying to change the perception of them,” she said. “To their credit, they’ve moved very quickly. They want to convince customers they have more say and make them feel as though they’re being treated as a true partner.”

Interoperability Interest

Microsoft said the release of the reference schemas came in response to customers’ requests for improved data interoperability. The company said the schemas will enable vendors to build software that can interoperate smoothly with Office 2003, identify data within documents, generate reports from that data and assemble documents automatically.

Kleynhans said that although it will take a year to 18 months to tell whether the strategy is working, the release of the schemas is a good indicator of Microsoft’s dedication to being more open.

“The real question is how open is Microsoft really going to be,” Kleynhans said. “From that standpoint, this is a good sign.”

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