Yesterday I collected files from my classmates (by email) to aggregate it because a teacher had asked us to do it. Since most of us are pretty much non-techies, I would assume that everybody submit .doc files – that goes without saying. A headache came in, however, when one of my friends submitted a .docx file.
I am perfectly aware that this is a new file format used by Microsoft Office 2007 – but hey Microsoft, do you think that everybody in the world can suddenly open up a new file format just because you use it? A patch from Microsoft for opening up these files cost a dreading 28 MB download. Do you think everybody in the world has that much of time and bandwidth to download it? (No, Ritchie, I’m not blaming you for this fuss.)
The problem is that the new file format is essentially made NOT for you, dear MIcrosoft customers, but for Microsoft. This format is called, uh, Office Open XML or OOXML and is pending approval from ISO to be an international standard. Microsoft really thinks that his format is the definitive future, totally ignoring the fact that “Open” in a name does not mean anything and that there is already an ISO format for exactly the same purpose and being widely used – the OASIS OpenDocument Standard or, more concisely, OpenDocument or ODF.
There is absolutely no difference in the usage of those two formats – so there is absolutely no excuse for another standard. Besides, Microsoft had added a few quirks and ambiguity in the specification to hinder the growth of open source alternatives and provide room for MS Office to stay in monopoly. I know it is much better than the former .doc proprietary binary format because now alternative office suites can code an OOXML reader without reverse-engineering documents. To be honest, however, a corporation with a philantropic heart will just use the existing OpenDocument standard, not making a new and useless format.
This means that Microsoft has another agenda, as a company cannot make money-consuming decisions without clear way to profit. Guess that.
PS: about the docx I received, I converted it using an online tool at Zamzar. Check it out if you have the same problem – it can also convert to an from a lot of file formats. Expect these kinds of websites to flourish in this world of file format hell.
PPS: I scream, so do Google and IBM.