By David H. Ringstrom
After years of hegemony, Microsoft has finally acknowledged that the world wants to be able to save documents in open formats that are freely shareable with other software applications.
From the beginning, Microsoft Office users have been generally required to save documents in proprietary formats, such as .XLS or .DOC, that couldn't always be opened in competing productivity suites. These limitations will fall way when Microsoft Office 2013 is released.
Three new document format options will appear in Office 2013:
- Strict Open XML - an ISO standard that offers maximum cross-platform flexibility.
- ODF 1.2 (Open Document Format), the document standard utilized by free, open-source applications such as Apache OpenOffice.
- The ability to open PDF documents in Word, make edits, and then save the document back as a PDF - or any other document format.
It's presently sometimes difficult or impossible to use certain Office documents in other software programs. Over the years, Microsoft has made overtures to open document formats by including transitional document formats available in Office 2007 and 2010. However, this has meant that documents couldn't necessarily make a round-trip between say Microsoft Excel and other spreadsheet programs without a loss of functionality.
Long-term Office users have become accustomed to working around the restrictions of Microsoft's proprietary document formats. For instance, Word users can save documents in Rich Text Format, which most word processing programs can open without issue. However, complex Excel documents could often only be opened and edited cleanly in Microsoft Excel. A free document viewer was the lone olive branch offered to anyone unwilling or unable to purchase Microsoft Office.
Microsoft also long resisted the PDF format, to the extent that it launched a competing XPS document format that failed to gain traction in the marketplace. Microsoft Office 2007 haphazardly introduced the ability to save documents in PDF format, in that users had to manually download a software update. PDF capabilities were formally adopted in Office 2007 when Microsoft issued the Service Pack 2 update. Office 2010 shipped with native functionality for saving documents in PDF format, but Office 2013 builds on this by empowering users to both edit and save documents in PDF format.
This sea change was announced by Microsoft in a recent blog post, which includes a useful chart that documents Microsoft's gradual shift in document format availability over the past decade.
Read more articles by David Ringstrom.
About the author:
David H. Ringstrom, CPA heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based software and database consulting firm providing training and consulting services nationwide. Contact David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter. David speaks at conferences about Microsoft Excel, and presents webcasts for several CPE providers, including AccountingWEB partner CPE Link.