Office Open XML Deep Dive

Last week I went to San Francisco to take a dive off the deep end into the new XML file formats in Microsoft Office 2007. The training was hosted by MindJet, and presented by Doug Mahugh of Microsoft, and Chris Predeek, a consultant who put together the code samples for the hands-on labs.

NextPage has been involved in the standardization process for Open XML, with our very own Tom Ngo serving on the Ecma committee. Doug, at a post-training session dinner (thanks Erick!) had only good things to say about Tom. He said that he wished Tom could be at all the committee meetings because he’s able to reason from neutral ground, whereas a Microsoft representative saying the same things would immediately be treated with skepticism and mistrust.

The training focused mainly on document generation independent of Office applications. This included some general XML programming with .NET and using the System.IO.Packaging API included in .NET 3.0, which I had heard of but had never seen used. The packaging API give a little higher level of abstraction than just working with the raw ZIP and XML. I also learned that there is yet another API in the works that is at an even higher level of abstraction. It is currently in CTP form, and Doug indicated that the developers would really like feedback on it. Chris also showed using XSLT to generate documents from templates.

Aside from general understanding of our implementation domain, we’re not extremely interested in document generation at NextPage. Our efforts are more toward tracking documents that others create. There may be opportunities to store our tracking metadata as a custom XML part, whereas we currently mash some XML into the structured storage custom properties for the previous binary format.

Something that made the training experience unique was that it was all professionally videotaped. I don’t just mean that there was a camcorder running in the back of the room. They had multiple cameras, extensive lighting, a control room, and lots of other stuff completely lost on me as a TV production ignoramus.

Doug’s blog has a photo showing all the extra lighting added for the cameras. That’s the back of my balding head in the front row, second from the right. I’ve always heard that the best students sit toward the front to the side, so I was looking for someone up there to copy off of. I’m hoping there isn’t much footage of me nodding off, what with the late-night travel to get there and the limited personal relevance of some of the material.

The film crew also did interviews with the various attendees of the training, which I agreed to participate in mostly for the interesting experience of being formally interviewed on camera. My willingness was nearly offset by my fear that I would say something incredibly stupid. I’m fairly sure that I said stuff at least moderately stupid. This is why I prefer writing a blog instead of doing some sort of podcast. Hopefully the producer will have a goal of making the attendees appear insightful and articulate and omit my interview altogether.

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