Historic advance in communication technology

It may seem like just another baby step (the kind we are used to seeing with web services, which will eventually enable a true pan-vendor service-oriented architecture), but I believe today we are seeing something closer to a "giant step for mankind".

A report by the European Commission recommends a common XML-based rich office productivity document format, the OASIS Open Office format, which is being put forward to become an ISO standard. The significance of this can hardly be over-emphasised - client and server applications create short-lived SOAP messages to invoke web services, but people create documents.

Imagine being able to use an office application today to create a document, and in ten years to be able to use a different version of the same application (or even a completely different application) to open and modify the same document. Now imagine you (or your child or grandchild) being able to do that in 50, or even 500 years. That is exactly what a common open standard document format makes possible.Rosetta Stone - the Key to understanding ancient alphabets

There is a very nice history of communication over on inventors.about.com, however it actually omits the Rosetta stone (see picture) which enabled archaeologists to understand writings in dead scripts. In many ways, a common electronic format for all kinds of office documents is like the creation of a universal electronic script - it gives us a way to store and exchange all kinds of rich documents with the knowledge that they can be read and understood long into the future. A rich open standard for documents can also replace serviceable creaky HTML as the Internet's universal format.

As we create technologies that are capable of storing ever more information (before the end of this century, we are likely to be able to store the entire content of the Internet on a hand-held device!), a common document format gives us the assurance that the information in our documents remains accessible. Which is good news for those of you who were perhaps thinking we were going to have to save the Internet as hard copy ;)

See Simon Phipps and Erwin Tenhumberg's comments for more about what was achieved and who supported it.

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