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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
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.