Ode to XML in Office

Since I woke up this morning I was thinking how XML has changed the information systems world. I remembered that when I was in college, I had a client-server teacher who started talking about this new thing called XML and his advice was: “you should explore this baby since it’s going to change the world someday.”

Since the late 90s, the minds of the software development world adopted XML and designed products that included support and integration for XML. The Microsoft Office team decided as well to integrate XML and to start the XML in Office story. Office 2000 and Office XP were the XML in Office beginners, with these versions you were able to open and save XML files. XML started to gain power and popularity and became the interoperability standard, the lingua franca of all systems. Office 2003 then expanded the possibilities of working with XML and products such as Word, Excel, Access, and InfoPath offered a deeper integration with XML.  With Office 2003 you can do more than save and open files, among other things, you can create XML mappings in Excel, transform Word documents into XSL-FO format, turn user input into XML using InfoPath, and allow developers to create their own XML schema structure representing information within Office 2003 programs. The Office 12 version will expand even more the possibilities for the XML in Office story; for starters, all documents will have open XML-based file formats.

Here are my recommended steps and pointers to become a part of the XML in Office story:

  1. If you have not learned XML yet, learn it, and make it a part of your life. XML is the present and the future of software. Research and understand what XML, XSL, XSD, and XPath are and how they work together. Visit the XML Developer Center and explore the site. Then, you are ready for step 2.
  2. If you have worked with XML, but you have not experimented with XML in Office, explore the XML in Office portal and learn more about the Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas. Then, you are ready for step 3.
  3. If you know XML, and you have explored the bones of Office in XML, be aware of what’s coming next, Office 12 is full of surprises. Pay close attention to Brian Jones’s blog, register to The Future of Office: Be the First to Know site, and stop by the Office Developer Center. I will keep you posted with all the new content for Office 12 that will be published at the site.

For everyone, read books, explore blogs and newsgroups, and play around with Office and XML. Try to solve a business or home problem using what you learned; you will be surprised of the power of XML in Office.

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