File Formats; Or: How big an ego Microsoft has

2 June 2005

So, Microsoft have stunned the world and announced that the next version of Office will have three new file formats, .docx, .xlsx (try saying that 3 times quickly…) and .pptx; and that they are all based on xml, and all “open” and play well with others. All the info and a nice video is up on Channel 9 (as seen on tv Scoble).

One of the main points made in the video is that they are using xml, with all the components – images, embedded objects etc – of the file being stored alongside the xml in a directory structure which is then zip-ed to make it smaller. They go how this means you can change parts of your document dynamically by editing the xml, or swapping out images etc, which is all swell and great…

... except Apple have been doing it for years.

The new office formats (they have different schema, but essentially are built the same way) are almost exactly the same as the file formats that Pages (Apple’s word processor) and Keynote (Apple’s presentation app) use. However, both these formats (.pages and .keynote) utilise the “bundle” mechanism available on Mac OS X, which allows folders to look like files. To get at the structure in a Pages or Keynote file, all you need to do is right click on the file and choose “Show Package Contents”, and you get to see the contents in all it’s glory. The only visible difference seems to be that Apple utilises bundles, and then compresses only the xml, as opposed to just zip-ing the whole thing.

I think the main thing to remember when Microsoft announces anything, is that someone else has probably done it already, and all these cool new things that “Microsoft” has now enabled were probably possible already.

One cool thing, however, is that you don’t see video interviews with the project lead on the day anyone else announces anything – especially Apple. From a developers point of view, it’s really nice just to get a quick overview from the people that came up with it, and their reasons for doing what they did in whatever way they did it.

What I wouldn’t give for a channel 9 swooping around inside Apple – although they’d have to get someone slightly more cool then Scoble ;-)

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