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Microsoft Office Binary Formats

by | Jul 11, 2008

It’s been just over a month now that the technical documentation for the Office binary formats has been available via download. What does this mean for developers and customers of third-party Office solutions?

Well, for one, it means that there is now universally public access to those specifications in electronic form. Previously, there was some documentation available in paper form, but trying to work collaboratively was no easy task. Those who did have access couldn’t easily share the documents internally, and they were covered by a confidentiality agreement and were not allowed to be freely distributed to just anyone.

Second, the available documentation wasn’t really well laid out, and read more like a complicated technical dictionary rather than an organized specification. The new documentation is a good step forward in making a complicated format a bit more clear. Navigation through the document becomes easier with links, and the general structure and flow is improved, including a specific section on where each Office version behaves differently with regards to the specification, which of course has been a big complaint with the Office Open XML specification.

Third, with an official 1.0 release, we can hope that the documentation will be improved in the future, incorporating feedback from those who are using it, fleshing out confusing or lesser documented areas, etc.

Last, the fact that this documentation is now public means that more people may begin to work with Office formats. Those with current solutions will be able to more easily improve them, and it may encourage new solutions to be created, as rather than guess at how to implement the formats, something tangible exists to assist the effort.

The bottom line is that only good can come of these formats becoming more accessible and understandable, and I hope Microsoft (and others) continue to open up previously proprietary technology.