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Open XML

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The Microsoft-created Open XML document format is rapidly gaining acceptance amongst software developers and businesses across the world as it becomes the platform for a new generation of feature-rich applications, says a Johannesburg-based developer. 

Aaron Toys, a business unit manager at 3fifteen, says Open XML’s ability to allow developers to build value-added applications on top of the Microsoft stack is proving to be a real benefit to systems integrators and clients alike.
“The reality is that Open XML is a new mechanism that allows us to interact with file formats and build the feature-rich applications that our customers are demanding,” said Toys. “Open XML greatly facilitates the integration of information sources (internal or external), thus streamlining processes, increasing productivity, and creating new business opportunities.”
His comments reflect a growing momentum behind Open XML, which is in the final stages of consideration for acceptance as a global standard by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). A final decision is expected in March 2008, with strong opposition coming from the global open source community and aligned vendors like IBM, which use a rival format in their systems. It has already been ratified by the European Computers Manufacturers Association, ECMA.
Toys says millions of vendors across the world are already using the Open XML format as a platform on which to develop new-generation business applications, and is fast becoming one of the most widely utilised document format standards in the world.
Previously, application developers would have to build massive bespoke applications that would have had to be laboriously integrated into existing and future installations. Now, using Open XML, they can develop more feature-rich applications far faster and at a substantially lower cost than before.
An example of an Open XML-enabled application is a contract-generation program for a bank, or a property management firm, that would allow data to be brought directly into a Microsoft Word document from the database or a back-end system. Contracts and loan agreements are generally constructed from a set of document fragments according to a set of rules, and can be populated in advance with existing data from back-end systems.
“The format has been designed around the notion that third-party applications should be able to access and edit parts within documents that are specific to their needs, without having to manually scan the whole document. The ability to work with Microsoft Office documents without having to load the associated application can bring huge benefits in itself,” says Toys.
“Our customers have told us their data needs can’t be addressed by a one-format-fits-all approach,” says Microsoft SA’s Paulo Ferreira. “This is an example of how multiple standards can foster a healthy, competitive industry that meets the real world needs of customers.”
The advantage from the developer’s point of view is that Open XML documents are easier to assemble. Furthermore, it opens up the possibility of the user editing the document and returning it for further processing.
“It’s bringing the commonality that HTML has across any type of phone or browser to the document format,” says Toys. “If something is in an XML format, anything that can understand XML knows where to locate the right piece of information or property of that document, and can interact with it, change it, push it to a new end-point. It does really open up the doors for driving solutions around those qualities.”