Linux and Windows interoperability with OpenXML
Before we begin, let's be clear about two things: firstly, my views do not necessarily reflect that of ITWire or its editors. Secondly, this story is not making any value judgment on OpenXML vs ODF. Instead, I'm saying, "ok, OpenXML exists. Here's a bunch of stuff you can do with it." Perhaps some might say you can achieve the same things if only Microsoft adopted the existing ISO standard instead - and that's cool; just because I say "here's something you can do in OpenXML" you shouldn't interpret that as meaning "OpenXML is the greatest thing in the world."
Now, credit where credit is due, this story didn’t come to me from my own keen thought processes. Rather, Microsoft expressed disappointment at my views and said “a better story” would have been the positive benefits OpenXML can bring the interoperability between different operating systems, aka Windows and Linux.
That's a fair point; Microsoft have published the specifications for the XML-based file formats used throughout their latest Office suite applications. Never before have alternate applications had the same opportunity to offer 100% compatibility. In the past, rival suites which purported to open such documents could not guarantee complete success: this is no longer the case and major vendors are taking it up. The Novell edition of Open Office supports OpenXML. The Gnumeric open source spreadsheet supports OpenXML. And Corel have announced their support of OpenXML.
What’s more, an XML-based specification has a massive advantage over a binary file format – by virtue of using XML, a program’s support for OpenXML does not have to be full-blown. It’s now possible to produce simple utilities which operate over Microsoft Office documents, performing their own work but safely ignoring everything else at no risk of damaging the document. Such a utility might be a command-line global search-and-replace, for example, which swiftly processes a batch of documents in one sweep. Or, perhaps a utility which reduced the colour depth (and thus dramatically shrink the file size) of all embedded images within a set of specified documents. In these hypothetical cases the developer would not have to understand or implement the entire OpenXML specification. (Although to find the relevant information, they would still have to wade through the 6,000 page description!)
This is the approach crafty developers worldwide have been taking. OpenXMLDeveloper.org is building a repository of these with RSS subscription available. Here’s some of the more interesting ones.
One developer demonstrates how to dynamically create invoices within a PHP-powered web application that are in Microsoft Excel format.
This code sample is compelling; firstly, the originating server can be a Linux box or indeed any other machine that is capable of hosting PHP. There need not be any proprietary libraries or run-times installed. In fact, previously, generating Excel documents on-the-fly was a tedious process even for Windows developers; a .NET web site had to rely on “primary interop assemblies” (PIAs) to communicate with non-.NET Office APIs.
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David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. Within two years, he returned to his alma mater, the University of Newcastle, as a UNIX systems manager. This was a crucial time for UNIX at the University with the advent of the World-Wide-Web and the decline of VMS. David moved on to a brief stint in consulting, before returning to the University as IT Manager in 1998. In 2001, he joined an international software company as Asia-Pacific troubleshooter, specialising in AIX, HP/UX, Solaris and database systems. Settling down in Newcastle, David then found niche roles delivering hard-core tech to the recruitment industry and presently is the Chief Information Officer for a national resources company where he particularly specialises in mergers and acquisitions and enterprise applications.