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   What is XML's appropriate place in an office suite?

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It seems to me that this fundamental question hasn't been adequately 
addressed in our recent discussions.

As XML permeates more and more of the computing space it throws up questions 
about where it belongs and how visible it should be. An approach that might 
be appropriate for XML geeks, like the ... what shall I say? ... remarkable 
bunch on this list may be totally useless or wholly inappropriate for the 
apocryphal ordinary user of an office suite. It is likely that the ordinary 
user is, quantitatively, also the most numerous class of user. So, any 
sensible vendor will take the views of the ordinary user into account.

In attempting an answer I would suggest that we would do well to remember the 
applicability for many users of office suites of Champion's First Law of XML: 

"XML is a meta language that can describe anything, and if you learn to think 
at two or three levels of abstraction above what you've done all your career, 
it is really useful." 

In fact, for many non-programmer users of office suites there might be a need 
to think at four, five or more levels of abstraction above their norm.

Re-examining some of the recent discussion it seems to me that some of the 
pleas for fully open XML in office suites is simply thinly veiled special 
pleading for the XML geek lobby. Making a fully open XML in an office suite 
empowers not the user but the XML geek. So, in effect, the plea for fully 
open XML is, in some respects at least, a selfish request. One might even 
suggest that it would increase the power and revenue earning potential of XML 
geeks (at the expense of the office suite vendors). Moving power or data 
ownership from proprietary vendors to our own XML geekdom may be less 
altruistic than it at first appears.

For those who doubt the above point, I suggest they go and canvas views of 
users of office products in local businesses. How many actually want XML? How 
many would know what to do with it if they are given XML on a plate?

So where does XML belong in an office suite?

As a first attempt at an answer, I would suggest "Well hidden from the 
ordinary user".

Here, it seems to me, that InfoPath potentially hits a sweet spot. It lets 
users perform a useful business task using a visual metaphor which is broadly 
familiar - a forms interface - while hiding the XML from the user who has no 
interest in it, and at the same time making potentially reusable XML data 
available to one or more backend processes.

Andrew Watt


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