Open XML sans le drame
I just finished reading the comments posted on a few Open XML blogs over the weekend, a task which took much longer than I expected. My impression is that people want to talk about the outcome of the voting period that ended yesterday, but we don't have a public result yet to talk about, so all that pent-up energy is going into rehashing the debates and rumors of recent months. Emotions are running high in many places.
But in the midst of all the conspiracy theories, finger-pointing, and name-calling (Hug Madog? Come on, you can do better than that!), I came across two posts that stood out as calm and pragmatic voices of reason. How refreshing.
Mick Lohan has some subtle but powerful ideas in his post "VBA -> Open XML Part II (cont) - Displaying a Dynamic Table." As he explains in his usual formal and stuffy style:
Being a very lazy West of Ireland guy , I never like having to do the same thing over and over again - after all, that's what programming is all about - code once, use many times. The snippet above contains 3 types of Sections (document sections if you will) - one produces the Report Title , then there's a line break section and finally there's the the table section - if you need any more types you just add to the case statement in the code (Line 81 in Module1.vb) - again extend once, use many times. With a little thinking (preferable on a hilltop over looking a stretch of water with a gentle westerly breeze in your face - and your mind full of the great ideas disseminated by a podcast from Dot Net Rocks that you've just listened to on your MP3 player) you'd be saying to yourself - All I have to do is change the Title , the SQL Query and the Column Captions and Widths and indicate if I want subtotals and I'd have a new report - but then you' ld say -Couldn't I just add a root element say <Printout> and then a 2nd element like the one above with the new details - save it off to a file and then call the file from my program [next installment] - then to produce further reports all I'd have to do is edit the xml file that is external to the program with Notepad.
It's great to see Mick diving into Open XML and applying his "XAML for VB6" approach to reporting concepts. Mick has been delivering "custom" applications for a long time that are simply XML configuration files that get processed by an EXE processor designed around a simple and flexible schema he has developed for representing common user interface elements. This has always provided his clients with "Notepad customization at runtime" capabilities as mentioned above, but reports were generated by automating the Office clients. Now that the Office default formats are XML-based, he's moving beyond automation of the Office clients and generating Open XML reports dynamically. The code samples Mick has generously started sharing will be very useful to VB developers who want to work with Open XML.
Dennis Hamilton has been watching the tecnology standards world longer than most -- he was a contributor to some of the first programming-language standards, including Fortran and Algol, and he has contributed to the ASCII, TIFF, ODMA, and DMA standards as well. His 9/2 post acknowledges the harsh tone of the debate without dropping down into it:
We are seeing conversations and posturing reminiscent of the cold war, the "axis of evil" proclamations, and other excesses of global politics. You'd think the stakes were civilization as we know it. I suspect many of the participants believe exactly that. All I can say is, "Follow the money." Then get a grip.
From my perspective, the OOXML and ODF efforts are merely the start of an important journey where we improve our mutual understanding of what it takes to operate with standard document formats in collaboration, interchange, and preservation using different implementations (of the same or different formats). This is important work, and we need these standards as a starting point. It's a long and winding road ahead, and we need to have as many positive contributions as can be found.
That's the long-term perspective I'd expect from Dennis, and he goes on to list some of his great posts on Open XML, ODF, document interoperability and related topics, offered as "This is the easiest way to understand what I value, what I think is important, and how one can go about reconciling these differences in a professional, considerate manner."
Both Mick and Dennis have more coming on these topics (according to their latest posts :-)), so add these two to your RSS reader and enjoy some non-controversial Open XML coverage in the weeks ahead.