Interoperability is not just good for technology, it's good for business too. The period in history where software companies built platform-centric silos around their products with wanton disregard to how they would work with other products and platforms is about done. If you're software can't, in some capacity, "play nice" with other applications and platforms, you likely are going to lose a lot of business to other companies' products that will.
Microsoft has been moving its products in this direction for some time, as have the other major vendors like IBM, Novel, Sun and Apple. In fact, Microsoft made an announcement on February 21st concerning our new interoperability principles in our products going forward.
Open XML looks to be a major component in this strategy. If you haven't heard of Open XML before, it's an XML-based format specification for electronic documents like presentations, spreadsheets, charts and word processing documents. Much the way that SOAP creates a common messaging protocol to allow different systems share information, Open XML provides the ability to share business documents between office productivity software. It also provides for custom XML markup in the body of a document, allowing for interoperability with custom or legacy line of business applications.
Creating a standards-based specification for how common business documents are created and shared just makes sense. In the same way that standards have made SOA a viable architectural model for building distributed systems, Open XML has the promise to give customers a wider choice of business productivity software and the confidence that they will be able to share their documents with partners and customers.
Microsoft led the charge with Open XML, submitting the specification to Ecma International for consideration in 2005. Ecma ratified Open XML (Ecma 376) in December 2006, and now Open XML is before the global community for ratification as an international ISO/IEC standard.
The whole history of Microsoft's involvement with the push to make Open XML a standard is outlined in an open letter published yesterday by Microsoft Senior VP, Chris Capossela. For more detailed information on Open XML and what architects and developers should know about it, have a look at the following links:
- Wikipedia: Good overview on Open XML, as well as licensing and intellectual property information.
- Ecma Standard 376: The official Ecma-approved standard definition site.
- OpenXMLDeveloper.com: Great reference resource for developers looking to leverage Open XML in their software.
- OpenXMLCommunity.org: A hub for all things Open XML, including blog links to experts, resources and technical articles.
While Open XML is not an approved international standard yet, it is getting close to getting the approval it needs. Customers across the globe are beginning to get used to the idea that they can share information seamlessly between applications and systems. Anything we as developers and architects can do to promote and implement that level of interoperability into our products will not only result in happier customers, but will server our industry better as well.