It's not often that I compliment Microsoft.
If the news released today ends up being true, I have to say I am impressed by Microsoft. Today, Microsoft announced that they will be opening the file formats of the next version of Word, Excel and Powerpoint. The new formats will be based on XML compressed using ZIP into a single file. The entire specification will be open and available for anyone to use on a royalty-free basis. This is huge news.
Why is this huge news? Over the years Microsoft has had a habit of closely guarding their file formats from others. They did this in order to insure that if you wanted to make a Word document, for instance, you had to use Microsoft Word (part of Microsoft Office). By locking you into Office, they thereby insured a steady stream of profits from the sale of Microsoft Office. Not everyone knows, but Microsoft derives most of their profits from the sale of Office and not from Windows. The fact that Microsoft has decided to allow essentially ANYONE on any operating system to make Word/Excel/Powerpoint documents means that these will become the de-facto standards for word processor documents, spreadsheets and presentation software.
Each Word/Excel/Powerpoint document will be stored in a single file. This single file is essentially a ZIP file (a compressed file) storing a series of files and subdirectories containing pure XML. Zip is a very common compression format that can be generated and read by any operating system. XML is a text based format, so it can easily be generated by any program in any operating system. The combination of two easy to use/generate formats, makes this file format a no-brainer for everyone to implement.
I predict that within 6 months of these file formats being released, every competing office suite vendor will support them and every operating system (including Linux and Mac OSX) will also support them.
I admit to being very skeptical over whether this will happen, or how 'open' the formats will really be, but if true, this is fantastic news for everyone.