A tale of two XML document formats

This content is 16 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Once upon a time, there were two competing standards for XML-based document formats. The big bad company that everybody loves to hate created an XML-based format for its Office Suite and called it Office Open XML (OOXML – also referred to as OpenXML), even producing converters for the many business customers that were working with old formats (except if they used a version of Office for a competing operating system). Meanwhile, some guys who like to share things (because all well-brought-up children know that sharing is A Good Thing) had already decided that the big bad company’s idea was too proprietary and developed a competing XML document standard called the Open Document Format (ODF).

The big bad company had been told off many times for not playing nicely and they wanted to show everyone how they were changing their ways, so they made Open XML an open standard and submitted the format to some standards bodies. One of the standards bodies was happy to endorse the format, but the biggest and most relevant of the standards bodies took its time, initially favouring the other format, even though the big bad company’s software had become the de facto standard in many markets around the world. Eventually both OpenXML and ODF were agreed as standards, allowing everybody to be confused by the proliferation of so-called “standard” document formats with similar names.

When the big bad company heard that their document format had been approved, they were very happy and decided that competing formats were no longer a threat. They were concerned that customers would be confused by the various standards with similar names and announced that they would include support for competing formats in the next service pack for their Office suite – even allowing users to select a competing standard as the default. They also said they would include support for a well known portable document format (PDF) that competes with their own XML paper specification (XPS) portable format, despite previously having had to remove PDF support from their Office suite because the company that owned the format threatened to sue them (they had already made it available as a free plug-in).

Everyone was happy. Or nearly everyone was. The European Union said it would be investigating whether the new file format support was good for consumers (they don’t like the big bad company). And some of the guys who say they like to share everything were unhappy because the big bad company was sharing with them and they didn’t really want to play. This made the big bad company very sad because it wasn’t really such a bad company and most of the people who work there just want to write great software. But, now we can share our documents and know that people can read and write to them, at least most of us can live happily ever after.

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