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XML file format switch generates Office 12 buzz

IT professionals at TechEd 2005 say the storage benefits from Microsoft's planned move to new default file formats should help IT managers justify a move to the next version of Office.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Until now, many IT managers have been hard pressed to find compelling reasons to upgrade to newer versions of Office. That may be about to change with Microsoft's recent decision to adopt XML technology for default file formats in Office 12, the next version of the suite of productivity applications.

The technology won't be important to most IT shops for a while, since Office 12 won't be out until the second half of 2006 and organizations are still upgrading to Office 2003. But many are looking forward to the ease that is afforded by smaller file sizes, which reduce data storage needs, and the improved data recovery capabilities and security features that come with a move to XML.

The file formats, called Office Open XML Formats, will be defaults for the next versions of Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Several IT managers attending TechEd 2005 hailed the move as a welcome advance.

"I enjoy the fact that XML is structured and consumable, which makes it easy for us," said Scott Baker, a corporate systems engineer at EMC Corp., in Hopkington, Mass. "We don't have to filter based on content, we can filter based on metadata. The underlying technology will no longer be locked away."

Smaller file sizes, lower storage costs

Jonathan Pangburn, an IT manager at Gap Inc., in San Francisco, agreed that the move to XML will be an important change, provided that Microsoft sticks to the existing standard. The reduced file sizes will be beneficial because his company is looking to cap its growing storage costs, particularly next year as the company looks to do extra backup with increasing requirements for Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliance, Pangburn said.

IT's interest in XML won't diminish the necessity of finding a legitimate business need to move to Office 12, however, particularly when many companies are happy with Office 2003 and even earlier versions of Office.

"A lot of companies don't see a great need to rush to install new versions of Office," said Jeff Mayfield, a SharePoint administrator at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. "But with everything moving to XML on the back end, this will get some buzz."

EMC's Baker agreed. "For an individual that just uses Word, it's hard for this to drive business value," he said. "You can talk to me all day and I can say that this is going to be cool. But what is important is what the guy with the purse strings thinks."

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