I’ve been burned so many times by the “this Office version is going to do XML right/better” mantra. In fact, I’m sure that back in 1998 when we started drafting proposals and outlines for “Special Edition Using Office 2000,” XML was one of the new features then that was going to turn Office on its head. Kughen, you reading this, am I right?
Fast forward to 2002, I’m at Wiley instead of Que, 2 office versions later (skipping over XP to 2003) and I was hearing “XML is really done right in Office this time. yeah, we know no one uses it in XP but they will in 2003.” We’re not the only publisher who has Office 2003 & XML books that are at the bottom of our overall sales charts.
I wouldn’t bet against Scoble but I doubt there will be much that will convince publishers or bookstores to publish or stock Office “12″ XML books. Coverage within your general Special Edition Using Office book this time makes sense though.
By way of background, Jim and I used to work together when I wrote Windows books for Que; Rick Kughen has been my editor at Que for many years. Book editors have some of the most finely tuned BS detectors around. They have to, or they wind up with warehouses full of unsold books.
Jim’s absolutely right. I remember reading breathless white papers like Manage Information with XML in Office Professional Edition 2003 (published on Microsoft’s Web site in May 2003), which basically consisted of a lot of hand-waving and vague statements about the brave new world of XML. Of course, when we asked for concrete examples of how real people could incorporate XML-based Office documents into real documents in their real working environment every day, we were met with stony silence. Basically, in Office 2003, XML was a “checklist item,” and (except for some very wonky InfoPath applications) virtually no one used it. Now that a new version of Office is in the pipeline, Microsoft’s spokespeople are acknowledging that the previous XML support was, shall we say, weak. That argument would be a lot stronger if they had acknowledged it back when Office 2003 came out.
One big development in Microsoft’s favor this time around is that there are many, many more ways to consume and reuse XML these days, starting with about 10 million blogs that didn’t exist in early 2003. Internal applications are much more likely to support XML import. Browsers like Firefox and Maxthon (and presumably IE7 Real Soon Now) offer native support for XML. If the Office development team builds hooks to Movable Type, WordPress, TypePad, Blogger, Flickr, and (oh yeah) MSN Spaces, they could (just to pick some arbitrary examples) turn Word into a blog authoring tool, PowerPoint into a photo sharing tool, and Excel into an online list-management tool. If all we get are a slightly easier InfoPath and tight links to SharePoint, we’ll know that this XML thing wasn’t such a big deal after all.
The devil is always in the details, and the real test of XML support in Office 12 will be whether real people can quickly and easily incorporate XML-based data into documents. We should know fairly early in the beta whether this is true, or whether we’re dealing with another round of hand-waving.
Show me, Microsoft.
Update: John Walkenbach has some interesting details from an Excel author/developer’s point of view.