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When I first read a blog pointed to by nerd news aggregator Slashdot that two of the world's leading science journals are rejecting document submissions in Word 2007, I was mildly intrigued. When I discovered that not even Word 2007 documents saved in earlier version Microsoft Word formats would accepted, my interest level shot through the roof.

Apparently, as the blog from Harvard science graduate Rob Weir and statements from the two journals, Science and Nature, point out, the main problem is the way Word 2007 processes the characters used in mathematical equations.

For reasons known only to itself, Microsoft has changed the default equations editor of Word 2007 so that, unlike previous versions of Word, it is no longer compatible with the globally accepted standard for writing equations in documents, Mathematical Markup Language (MathML).

The website of Science, the journal of the America Association for the Advancement of Science, does not hold back criticism of Microsoft in its explanation of why it will not accept Word 2007 submissions:

"Because of changes Microsoft has made in its recent Word release that are incompatible with our internal workflow, which was built around previous versions of the software, Science cannot at present accept any files in the new .docx format produced through Microsoft Word 2007, either for initial submission or for revision. Users of this release of Word should convert these files to a format compatible with Word 2003 or Word for Macintosh 2004 (or, for initial submission, to a PDF file) before submitting to Science.

"Users of Word 2007 should also be aware that equations created with the default equation editor included in Microsoft Word 2007 will be unacceptable in revision, even if the file is converted to a format compatible with earlier versions of Word; this is because conversion will render equations as graphics and prevent electronic printing of equations, and because the default equation editor packaged with Word 2007 -- for reasons that, quite frankly, utterly baffle us -- was not designed to be compatible with MathML. Regrettably, we will be forced to return any revised manuscript created with the Word 2007 default equation editor to authors for re-editing. To get around this, please use the MathType equation editor or the equation editor included in previous versions of Microsoft Word."

Nature was more succinct but no less emphatic in its explanation:

"We currently cannot accept files saved in Microsoft Office 2007 formats. Equations and special characters (for example, Greek letters) cannot be edited and are incompatible with Nature's own editing and typesetting programs."

It is hard to believe that even Microsoft would be so arrogant as to expect scientists and scientific publishers around the world to switch from the globally accepted MathML standard just so they can use Word 2007. It almost seems as if Microsoft is trying to drive the scientific community into the arms of OpenOffice.org.

In any case, as has just been demonstrated by at least two important publishers, the power to dictate standards in the documents space may be starting to shift away from the world's largest software vendor and toward the user community.

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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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