In the middle...
Following the red line of the last two postings the middle has to be defined.
In my opinion the middle needs something like a peace settlement. Others call this a contract. The contract defines an abstract surface which separates the IT with their specific needs from the end user space with its specific needs.
The IT is only interested in pure data. Most of the time formatting is a redundant information (which they get rid off by using compression or by storing it in databases for example). For the end user this is totally different. The formatting of data enables what Microsoft calls an Information Worker to come from data to information (and in the end to wisdom ;-). So the format or the markup is an essential part of the information. To go even further: The possibility to change the format, to play and twiggle around is part of the process to absorb information (especially numerical data).
We all know that those two different points of view do not come along today which is a pity because we would be able to provide it right now. But they could and must in the future.
How can they come along? Looping back to the original topic: XML.
XML can be a base for the contract between the two groups. Based on XML the groups sign a contract which defines two things: First we exchange data as XML and second that is the schema we use. So the IT doesn’t have to care about how the data was originally produced or how it will be used from their point on. Even better the IT can easily check incoming data for syntax validity and can span multiple systems (or platforms). The end user don’t have to be bound to a certain type of presentation. Sweet.
So what’s needed to provide thesis 1 and 2 together. Technically speaking we must be able to support arbitrary XML schemas and to give them a usable face. With all the things coming with it like versioning of XML schemas, digital signature needs to store a representation of the original view of a document (because that is what the person signed, not the pure data) etc.
This is the beauty of the XML features in Office today. The possibility to store the markup as XML is just another way of mangling up data and presentation and does not really change the world. Its separation does.
PS: We are hiring… .NET Evangelists in Germany !!!