Monday, July 09, 2007

Office Suites and XML - Vendor feedback

In my latest Info Insider column, I mentioned contacting two vendors to get their take on the impact of the two major office suites, OpenOffice/Star Office 8 (ODF) and Microsoft Office 2007 (OOXML), using XML internally. The vendors I contacted were Altova and MarkLogic. Here are the questions I asked them, followed by their responses.

Now that OpenOffice and Office 2007 both use XML natively, what new opportunities are there for analyzing or transforming Office documents?

Do you have any examples of customers using your products (or those of your technology partners) to analyze or transform OpenOffice/StarOffice or MS Office 2007 documents, leveraging their use of XML?

In essence, both vendors seem poised to provide ways for customers to extract extra value from
their document repositories, although the current state is a “ chicken and egg” problem. For now, there are no office document repositories, so there is no rush to buy new products to extract this value. However, sooner or later the enterprise chickens will be forced to lay the XML eggs (see below).


Following are the responses from MarkLogic, specifically John Kreisa, Director of Product Marketing for MarkLogic. Regarding opportunities for analyzing or transforming Office documents (whether ODF or OOXML), John says:

"Microsoft’s choice of XML as a core form for Office 2007 means that everybody using Office will be authoring directly in XML – Office becomes a direct means for creating XML content. We believe there is a significant opportunity for customers to leverage the ever-increasing amount of XML content by combining Office 2007 with an XML content server, like MarkLogic. Doing so will allow users to exploit the XML within the content in two ways. First they can combine all their content into one common repository, which is the first step to getting more value from the content. Then second, they can build content applications to repurpose the content, dynamically publish the content in new ways, and perform analytic functions they haven’t been able to do before.

Loading all of their content into a content server lets organizations analyze their entire content in new ways including understanding the term frequency, word counts, page counts etc, and understand the relationships within the content like citation analysis between articles and many other areas of analysis. What we typically see is that once organizations take a platform approach to their content they immediately find new ways to exploit it and generate new business opportunities."

Of course this begs the question “When will there be enough XML content to put into a repository, since adoption rates are currently low even though as users upgrade to OOXML or switch to ODF, they will generate documents for this repository. And in the case of OOXML, if users decide to stick with Microsoft they’ll have no choice but to upgrade, since sooner or later Microsoft will stop releasing free security patches to its earlier office products.

Kreisa confirmed the problem of the current adoption rate in his response to my second request for examples of customers using MarkLogic products (or those of your technology partners) to analyze or transform OpenOffice/StarOffice or MS Office 2007 documents, leveraging their use of XML:

"While Mark Logic does not currently have any customers using MarkLogic Server with MS Office 2007, we do anticipate that as adoption of Office 2007 increases, our customers will leverage the XML content they create with Office 2007 by combining it with MarkLogic to create new content, repurpose existing content into multiple formats, and republish this content, and to mine the content to find previously undiscovered information.

Our senior VP of products demonstrated our Office 2007 related capabilities in a general session at our User Conference in May, and the audience were very impressed – lots of nodding and clapping. When people see what we can do it generates interest in upgrading to Office 2007.

We have not heard much from our customer base regarding OpenOffice. However Mark Logic’s fundamental value proposition remains the same. We can load, query, manipulate and render the XML from StarOffice in the same manner we do for Microsoft Office 2007.

In response to your question about how presentational XML facilitates text analytics in Microsoft Office, it really depends on the goal of the user. Highly marked up XML can complicate or confuse tools that are not capable of handling this kind of deep XML. MarkLogic Server, on the other hand, can easily handle this kind of content and separate the markup from the text. For example, if a user wants to know how many places a certain word is in bold or how many words are tagged as <title1> style, we can help with that kind of analysis. We see this as potentially relevant for technical documentations organizations, for example, who want to make sure that they have consistency across their different documents."


Altova is the vendor who created the famous XML Spy product line, providing lots of ways to create, analyze, and manipulate XML on desktop PCs. Here are responses to the same questions from Alexander Falk, President, CEO and Co-Founder of Altova.

"Organizations save vast amounts of information in Microsoft Word documents and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, but until now, that content could not be re-used in an extensible, programmatic way. With the Open XML document formats, that data is now standards-based; and the new capabilities in Altova XMLSpy allow developers to extract, edit, query, and transform XML data from within documents that use Office Open XML Formats - the new file type used by the 2007 Microsoft Office release - to make the data highly interoperable and easy to process. This provides huge advantages to business people and application developers.

Because XML Spy's support for Office Open XML was released only a few weeks ago, its too early to provide feedback."

I followed up to ask about the issue of XML quality in the two office suites, and whether or not one offers greater potential for leveraging the new XML internals. Office 2007 is almost exclusively presentational, while OpenOffice goes beyond that with support for additional standards, Scaleable Vector Graphics, MathML and XML Forms.

"Yes, that is an old argument. In an ideal world, the content authors would be motivated to create content with semantically meaningful tagging, e.g. Docbook or DITA. But the reality is that in today’s world most content is created in Office documents, so it is better to be able to extract and process that content with Office Open XML, than to continue to wait until all content creators use semantically meaningful tags. Furthermore, the Office 2007 Open Office XML formats are not just for Word documents. Extracting data from the millions of Excel spreadsheets that get created and processing it further in XML opens the door to a huge opportunity for information reuse and repurposing."

So there you have it. OOXML will likely have the largest installed base. In fact, the Massachusetts Information Technology Division (ITD), (the agency that essentially stuck its finger in Microsoft’s eye) has released a new draft of its Enterprise Technical Reference Model This draft now includes OOXML as an acceptable open format. The discussion period will end on 20 July 2007, but I’m betting the draft will become approved. 20. For an expert insight into the issues with the Massachusetts ITD, go to:

And there are still persuasive arguments that OOXML is fundamentally inferior to ODF, and how that plays out over the next several years will be abstractly fascinating to watch -- if only the future of our office document content weren’t so important. I’v e got my opinions on the XML quality issue, expressed in my Information Insider columns at EContent Magazine for some time. Here is O’Reilly’s take on the issue. .

It is right for both the above vendors to profess no preference over one format or the other, since both suites use XML and their products can and will work with each. Still, quality and openness matter. We’ll see how this plays out.

Friday, July 06, 2007

More Evidence of Content 2.0 - Blogging with StarOffice 8

Sun Web Logging! I just received a Blog publishing plug-in to Star Office Writer called Sun Weblog Publisher (Go to for details about StarOffice 8). I am publishing this blog entry using the Weblog Publishing tool. I just installed it and already I'm in love with this. I have to admit, when I first heard about the product from Sun's PR, I wasn't quite sure why I'd want it. Then as I thought about it, the many reasons became very clear. Among the reasons:

  • Use the word processor interface that you're accustomed to and use many times each day.

  • Create your blog offline, and publish it when you're ready to.

  • Leave your HTML skills at the door (and use them when you really need to, but in a robust environment such as DreamWeaver).

  • And hey –let's admit it-- it's getting hard to remember the each blog's username/password pair. (I have a database of over 400 passwords – more than most people, I'm sure-- but every one you don't have to remember is a big help.)

I tried to include a screenshot from a portion of the Sun Weblog brochure: a great picture of the ants carrying big leaves is a perfect metaphor for the blogosphere.

Apparently you can't do that with this tool, even though Blogspot allows you to upload an image from either a location on the web or from your local computer. Oh well, a minor thing and this after all is version 1.0. For a list price of $9.95, the Weblog Publishing tool is till a terrific value.

One last thing -- this tool is powerful, and lets you blog to different blogs on the same blog server (like blogspot) or on different blog servers. You can even download a posted blog entry, edit it, and push it back to the blog. Nice.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Office 2007 Packaging

This weekend, I received the official MS Office Professional 2007 package, the same that consumers or SMBs would get when they buy the product. Now I admit I have trouble with contemporary packaging of all sorts -- razor blades, anything that is meant to prevent shoplifting, or the electronic equivalent of bootlegging software, especially anything with the Microsoft label. I completely sympathize with Microsoft's aggressive stance vis-a-vis bootlegged software. However, I've seen a couple of things lately --including the packaging for MS Office-- that I think goes a bit over the top.

First there was the prompt to download important security updates. It turns out, that that was a piece of software to determine whether or not my copy of Windows was genuine. Of course it was, since I was using review software that I'd received from Microsoft, but I think that procedure is a bit devious.

Now on to the more physical side of security: The package I received containing MS Office 2007 Professional. There were two sticky labels, one on the top and one on the body, indicating I should pull the one on the top and then somehow open the package. Problem was, pulling the top tab looked like it would damage the license key that was firmly affixed to the top. So I tugged and pulled, did my best not to damage anything, then moved on to the main seals. After much tugging (and using heavy-duty shears to cut what looked like a pop-rivet on the side), I realized that this package is intended to swivel downward, getting you to the software and manual. Inside and attached to the inside packaging was a set of graphics about the contents (Excel, Word, etc.) with a headline "Manage analyze and communicate..." I can't tell you exactly what the rest of the headline was, because to read it I'd have to bend and maybe break the outside plastic shell that houses the swivel-down housing with the CD, manual, etc.

Truthfully, this packaging looks like it was built by a committee, and "Security" got to veto "Ease of Use."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

HELP - online only?

So far as I can see, there are two ways to activate HELP in Office 2007 applications: The tiny little question mark in the upper right side, and the old standby F1. Both seem to get you only Microsoft online help. What happens if I lose (or temporarily do not have) an online connection? Am I stuck?

Actually, this de-emphasized HELP suggests to me that Microsoft believes the new ribbon interface is so clear that you won't need help. And secondly, that if you need help, you always have a broadband connection. I'm not sure both assumptions are true.

Anyway, here is the answer to the question I received from Microsoft's rapid response team:
"...the question mark button does, by default, take the user to Microsoft Office Online for Help. But if you click on the “Connected to Microsoft Office Online” button at the bottom of the box, you can choose to “Show Content Only from this computer” and that allows the user to see help content when not connected to the internet.

Super Tooltips, a feature of the Microsoft® Office Fluent™ user interface in the 2007 Microsoft Office system, integrates Help topics into the product in a new way to make the experience easier for new customers. One of the main problems that people have with Help topics today is that they don’t know the terms used to describe features. Super Tooltips are integrated help tips that provide quick access to information about a command directly from the command’s location in the Office Fluent user interface. One of the biggest innovations that began with version 2003 was the opportunity to get feedback on our Help. We use this feedback to drive the development of new content and to update current help topics as needed. We also use the feedback to identify trends that assist us in creating better Help for new features. The 2007 Office system Help was developed with the benefit from having feedback from thousands of Office customers."

So if you think to go to the bottom of the HELP box, you'll figure out how to get information without being online.

The right brain, aesthetic side of Office 2007; the Left Brain view of PowerPoint

I've been so caught up in looking at new features, or where my old Office features now reside, that I've overlooked one important point. Microsoft has clearly expended a lot of effort to achieve two important benefits: truly elegant set of styles (themes) along with some new fonts, and much improved consistency between the various Office programs.

Across all the Office programs, there is a new, softer look that subliminally suggests you can approach the new system comfortably. That new friendliness is true across all the applications, from the Outlook email program through Word, Excel and PowerPoint (the only applications I'm currently evaluating in Office Professional). This right-brain improvement in all the applications isn't something you'll see in feature checklists, or if you do it may sound like marketing hype. But seeing is believing.

On the consistency side, one of my past pet peeves with the Office suite was inconsistency. If I created a table in Word and imported it into PowerPoint, or vice versa, I'd always get something different. And if the direction was from Word to PowerPoint, I'd get a "dumbed down" table because that's all PowerPoint could handle. Now I've found that you can create complex (and beautiful) tables in PowerPoint with all the horizontal and vertical cell merges you want, and export them accurately into Word. Not only the power of the new table model, but this consistency across applications, is a very strong inducement to work with the new Office 2007.

Now it is Sunday evening, and it appears I spoke too soon about how well PowerPoint uses styles and its consistency. It appears that if you have existing objects (e.g., bullets) and change the bullet styles via the master, it doesn't apply those changes to the existing bullets, only to new ones. In fact, PowerPoint Help confirms this: "It is a good idea to create a slide master before you start to build individual slides, rather than after. When you create the slide master first, all of the slides that you add to your presentation are based on that slide master. However, if you create a slide master before you start to build individual slides, some of the items on the slides may not conform to the slide master design."

Thus IMHO, PowerPoint styles miss the point: A truly styles-based system would let you change your mind about the look and feel of a particular kind of object, then apply your change to all the objects of that type.

One last observation: Your editing view of PowerPoint slides, where you can see and edit the objects, is called "Normal." Why not "Draft," since Microsoft changed the name "Normal" to "Draft" for MS Word. Another inconsistency. Naughty naughty.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Interchanging documents and email between 2007 and Office 2003

Here I have very good news. When Word or Excel open a document you created in an earlier version of Office, I found absolutely no errors. I stress-tested the process with some very complex Word documents and some equally complicated Excel spreadsheets. Everything worked exactly as it should in 2007.

I also interchanged email, calendaring appoints, and the like between Outlook 2003 and 2007. Again, interchange worked flawlessly.

Other little Installation Issues -- and a side reflection on Acrobat

As I said earlier, I hadn't planned to remove my earlier versions of Word, Excel, etc. -- only to install the new products so I could test each on the same machine. One product I had hoped not to install was Outlook, but the installation process gave it to me anyway. In some ways that was a good mistake, because there are some minor advantages to the new Outlook -- for example, adding a sender to your safe sender's list so you don't have to download graphics (a give-away to spammers that they've caught a live email account). However, there were some downsides to the Outlook install that I experienced and you will too, or may experience comparable issues. First, I found my Palm device no longer synchronized with Outlook. That's a strong suggestion that the format of the PST file is different. However, the new PST file is not appreciably smaller than the one it replaced, whereas the Compressed XML formats for the other main Office applications provide significantly smaller files. Palm, to its credit, quickly updated their synchronizing software so that now works fine.

Another thing that stopped working was my Acrobat 8 plug-in to Outlook, and with it the ability to select an email folder and PDF the entire contents. (Likewise, the PDF plug-in to other office products also stopped working.) I contacted Adobe about this, and they said they were working on it.

One disappointing Adobe Acrobat side-note: Months ago I got tired of Internet Explorer and switched to Mozilla. However, there is no PDF plug-in to Mozilla/Firefox that Adobe has built for IE. That's a real disappointment; "PDF Capturing" a site within a browser is a facility I used frequently. You'd think that with its commitment to openness, Adobe would provide the same Acrobat plug-in for Mozilla that it does for IE.

Client Side or Web-Based Editing -- interesting observation

I am working on several different PCs as I write and print my Information Insider review of Office 2007 (and companion column). I have to; Office 2007 doesn't run under Windows 2000, which is the system that my printer is attached to. So I work at each and try to keep track of the latest versions, names of files, and where they are. This is not easy.

So with this review, I've decided to reverse things a bit. In the past, I've used this Blog as the place for my "cutting room floor" -- a place to put materials that I thought were important but didn't fit in the printed versions of my work. Now my strategy is to put all my observations in a single place (this blog) and select from the blog whatever I want to put into the final review.

That suggests one element of the strategic decision about office tools: Whether to use client-based tools (residing on the computers where you work) or to use on-line tools as I am doing here.

Exploring Word 2007

While Outlook 2007 is quite similar to Outlook 2003 (and thus getting up to speed was almost effortless), Word 2007 is significantly different from its predecessors. If you consider yourself a quick study of PC applications in general and a power user of earlier versions of Word, you will still find "ramping up" to your former competence a real challenge. Here are some of my initial findings.

  • The format painter didn’t seem to work when I tried to apply a margin setting to a bullet. The source bullet was under a level one heading and more deeply indented; the destination text-and-bullet were under a deeper level heading. I couldn’t undent (or move the bullet margin leftwards) even with the usual tool. Moreover, since I hadn’t yet figured out how to recover my “normal” (now “draft”) view of documents, I couldn’t fix the problem.
  • Microsoft obviously spent a lot of effort changing the user interface. In some cases, the changes are an improvement. In others, I have to say it seems like change for change sake. Once you've mastered the old interface, it becomes the "devil you know" and awkward or not, you know how to use the tool.
  • It is curious that Word offers no bundled help for those familiar with the earlier product. In fact, the "Help" icon itself is reduced to a small "?" in the upper right hand side, as though you probably don't need it anyway since the interface is deemed to be so self explanatory.
  • An example of "new interface" versus old feature is "Word Count." How do you determine your word count? Searching HELP for “Word Count” returns you lots of results (no surprise there), but getting a simple answer to how to count words didn’t come easy. There was lots of information about the Word Home page, counting words in a selection, counting words as you type – but finding how to perform the old standby of counting words in the document isn’t obvious. Answer: you can’t do this anymore, and you don’t need to: The information is at the bottom left of the screen as you type. Still, it would be nice to know that the old word count facility has been replaced and is no longer needed. Then when you catch on, the word count is always on the lower left-hand side of the window. Nice touch, but if you're not expecting you may miss it. Besides, getting reading level analyses used to be part of the "word count" facility; how do you do that? Go back to the HELP system to find out.
  • “Normal” views have disappeared, and I couldn't find where they'd gone until I went to a Word discussion group and learn that “Normal” is now “Draft.” Looking in Help for “Normal view” doesn’t get you anywhere. Instead, I went to a Word discussion group and learned that draft view is the new name for Normal and that you can set the styles view through Word Options (Alt, T, O, A), and then scroll to the 'Display' part of Advanced settings here (as in earlier versions of Word) you can set a width greater than zero.
  • I went to HELP and looked for "style window, " and received 100 hints (none of which seemed relevant). This seemed to be a pattern with HELP; if you try to find information about a feature whose name is new in Word 2007, you get no guidance. Working on your own, I think it will take a very long time to acquire a deep understanding of the new Word.
  • Here's a peculiarity of earlier MS Word that thankfully has been fixed.: Whenever you printed a Word document in the past --nothing else but print, mind you-- and exited the document, you used to get the message "Do you want to save the changes?" My very first reaction, that took a long time to get over was "Huh? I don't think I made any changes, but I guess I'd better save it anyway in case I did." The message comes because you've inadvertently associated a printer to the document. If this warning were such a great idea, then why don't the other Office suite tools, such as PowerPoint and Excel, work the same way and give that message too?
  • One big complaint I've had with Word from the DOS days was its limited table model. WordPerfect (and HTML) always allowed you to merge table cells horizontally as well as vertically. Word did not; it would "fake" a horizontal merge, but exporting that or looking closely showed that it wasn't a merged cell. Can you now merge cells vertically in Word? Yes. I exported a table to HTML and inspected it with Dreamweaver to confirm this. I wonder if (and hope that) PowerPoint's and Excel's tables will work the same way.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Exploring Outlook 2007

So far, Outlook has been the easiest of the applications to learn how to use; it appears to be very much like earlier versions of Outlook, with some convenience security features like adding a sender to your “safe list.” This lets you download graphics automatically from email that you’ve put on that list. I easily exchanged meeting requests and acceptances between Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2003 systems.

There were some quirks and disappointments however. First, my Palm Pilot no longer synchs with Outlook (Palm is said to be working on a Hot Synch upgrade for Office 2007). My Acrobat 8 plug-ins to convert email or email folders to PDF are no longer available. Adobe is working on that.

Although the new office.x file formats are compressed and thus about half the size of the earlier versions like .doc, Outlook's "PST" mail file remains its old bloated self. Not only that, but MS has added a feature to make "search" of email at least marginally useful (it never has been useful IMHO before), but that requires indexing the whole mail box. OK; I'm good with that. But how big is this index file and can you perform periodic maintenance on it to keep it trim (e.g., remove the big gaps in the index from deleting email). I see no information about index maintenance anywhere -- and, for that matter, as of a day later (after admittedly putting the laptop in snooze mode) Outlook hadn't yet finished indexing my email. (My PST file is about 100 MB). If/when it does finish indexing , I'll try to figure out where they hide the index to see how big it is and whether indexing makes email usefully searchable. Not that I now (or ever) have had a choice. Click "search" and you can do nothing until you index the email. The older search by sender/date etc. isn't apparently available anymore.

If you highlight a PDF email attachment, Outlook says it cannot preview the file because there is no previewer installed for it. There is a link to browse for previewers on the Microsoft site, but there wasn’t one for Acrobat. Earlier I’d installed (via a separate download) the PDF export tool for Office, but I have no idea what plug-in is missing here.

So far I am disappointed not to find some truly useful new features or bug fixes:

1) It would be nice if you delete junk mail entries that Outlook would put them onto its junk mail list automatically.

2) I still can't assign tasks to another Outlook user. This never worked for me in Outlook 2003. When I tried assigning a task from an Outlook 2003 user (myself on another system) to myself on the Outlook 2007 system, the assigned task arrived only as email in the assignee’s inbox. This is the same and not-very-useful way it was handled in Office 2003.

Installing Office 2007

In a nutshell: Not as smooth as I’d hoped, with lots of surprises along the way and after installation.

My environment: An HP/Compaq laptop running XP service pack 2, 1.4 Ghz with xxx memory and sufficient disk for the installation. Since Microsoft does not make IE version yy available on Windows 2000, I decided some time ago to standardize on Mozilla Firefox on both the older machine and my laptop where I performed the Office 2007 testing and review.

I specifically requested a custom, limited installation (not an upgrade) so I could keep my Office 2003 applications to develop test documents to test with Office 07, and vice-versa. I selected the default office shared features and office tools (Microsoft Office Graph and Microsoft Document Imaging) although I still am not sure what they are. I was careful to check “do not remove older versions,” although (see below) although they were not removed, they were hidden. Moreover, when

The installation required 1.3 GB and took about 25 minutes to install on a 1.4 Mhz Windows XP laptop. After installation, the system suggested I go to Office Online for updates. After about 5 minutes I thought I was downloading updates when I received a message: I must use Internet Explorer at least version 5.0 (I switched to Mozilla Firefox several months ago). I downloaded “OGAPlugininstall” and installed it from my local machine. NOTE: This automatic download to update Office does not include the ability to save files in Acrobat PDF format. For that you must search, download, and install the “SaveasPDFandXPS” file. I saw no sign of a compatibility plug-in to open and save documents in the OpenOffice document formats.

Before you can install these, however, you must “activate” the Office applications. This took three tries, but when I succeeded I received a “Welcome” message that recommended I also download a file that allows periodic updates to track and solve crashes and other system failures.” I did that.

Microsoft Office lists as a feature about being able to "save to PDF or XPS"... but that facility doesn't come with the Office software package. You have to Google to find it on the MS site, download it, install it separately...

From start to finish, it took me about ¾ hour to install Office, and I got more than I wanted (more about that later).

Office Professional 2007 Installation Notes:

  • Initial total disk space: 20,651,000,000 bytes; after installation 19,346,000,000 bytes – 1.3 Gigabytes taken.
  • I selected the option to install only Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. What I ended up with was those plus Outlook, MS Access, and MS Publisher.

Installation Lessons Learned:

  • Be sure you have at least 1.5 spare gigabytes of storage before you begin. Updating your old copy of Office (replacing the old applications) will reduce the total net storage you will use.
  • Be very careful to select only the components of Office that you want due to compatibility with other systems or devices (e.g., Palm Pilots). I was careful but I didn't get what I expected, and I don't dare "go home again" -- uninstall Outlook 2007 and re-install Outlook 2007, since I expect the format of the .PST file is different (thus the problem with my Palm Pilot synching).
  • Plan about an hour to install Office, and then plan several hours to learn how to use each applications.
  • I seemed to “lose” Word 2003; couldn’t even find it after a search through the whole hard disc for “winword.exe.” Rather than risk uninstalling the unwanted applications and attempting to install their Office 2003 counterparts, I left things as they were. However, when I click on a shortcut for Word 2003, I periodically receive a message about “installing…” and Word 2003 starts up. This isn’t normal behavior. (I didn’t receive the same “installing” message with Excel, at least not yet.)
  • Tried again later to open a “.doc” file with a double-click – assuming I’d managed to retrieve WinWord for Office 2003. Sorry, I received a very long “configuring” message and Word 2007 took control again. Then later when I tried opening the “.doc” file, Word 2003 took over. Later a double-click brought up Word 20003. This was very confusing to say the least.
  • Likewise with Excel 2003 (“office 11”) and old files with the .xls extension. Clicking on them brought up Excel 2007, even after trying again to specifically associate files with extension “.xls” with Excel from Office 2003. Excel 2007 would open the spreadsheet, in “compatibility” mode. Similar issue with .xls files; if I open Excel via its shortcut, I could then open .xls files with it. Lesson: apparently the new Office preempts the old extension names and openes them in "compatibility" mode. That seems reasonable, but I still don't like the occasional "installing..." message nor the time it takes to finish.

Microsoft Office 2007 Review Begins!

Well, I received my review copy of Microsoft Office 2007 Professional, and have begun the long process of installing, learning, and testing it. I am going to post all my unvarnished findings here -- if you read this and think I've gotten something wrong, feel free to tell me. I am also writing a companion Info Insider column exploring the strategic issues involved with selecting a new Office system --whether client side (new or an upgrade to Office 2007), Open Office / StarOffice) or web based (like Google Apps).

So here you'll see my findings as they occur, good, bad, and always honest.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Web 2.0 - Content 2.0

OK, it's been a while since I've posted any curmudgeonly thoughts. Been busy writing about Acrobat 8.0 and its consistency with Content 2.0.
What's "Content 2.0" you say? Well, you have to be living under a rock not to have heard about Web 2.0, and since the yin/yang of the web is application/data, I thought it was important to point out that the yang-side of things - content - is in the midst of its own birth pangs.

What are some distinguishing characteristics of content that are undergoing transformational change, the "2.0" thingy? Like Web 2.0, I see a parallel set of attributes in the content side of things:

1) Truly structured (XML-based) content, the question being how comparatively descriptive the structures are. See O’Reilly – “Data is the next ‘Intel-Inside’

2) Web standards applied to content

3) Social, cooperative, collaborative media

4) Delivered anywhere, anytime to any device (re-purposing

5) Combined in new and unexpected ways (re-use

6) Unexpected “mashup’s” providing new content possibilities (e.g., SVG and FlashPaper as alternates to PDF

7) Highly visual

Unlike the content world before OpenOffice (and its cousins StarOffice etc.), and Office 2007, content was pretty much whatever you wrote and laid out on a page... just like static web pages. The words were important, but the tools were presentational -- they helped you add visual appeal to the words, but the words were pretty much a continuous stream of text separated by spaces and punctuation. Now things are changing. Although Office 2007 appears (I'll know more after I get my hands on a package) to merely translate the old "visual layout of text" --Rich Text Format-- into XML, still it is a giant step in the right direction. It helps to be able to search for a figure caption or table caption, for example, while excluding paragraph text.

Now there's too much to think about in Content 2.0 to lay it all down here, but suffice it to say that Adobe has taken a similar step forward with Acrobat 8.0 in adding flash-based collaboration to the formerly electronic reader capabilities of Acrobat. And just before I submitted the column praising Adobe for that feat, I learned that --like OpenOffice and Office 2007-- Adobe had its own initiative to transform Acrobat's internal structure to XML -- the "Mars" project. So that makes another heavy hitter signing up for Content 2.0.

One nit-pick about Acrobat 8.0 though --it's open but still isn't completely converted to the "open source" religion. I was very disappointed to see that there is no Adobe writer plug-in to Mozilla, no "web capture" if you will that preserves the links. Still, Adobe is taken some distinctly forward steps in Acrobat 8.0 and deserves credit for that.