Friday, June 15, 2007

Word 2007 and backward compatibility

Tony has pointed me at a lovely dissection of the lack of backward compatibility of the new Microsoft Word formatted documents docx and the reasons why reputable science publishers are refusing to accept files authored in Word 2007. Bruce Rosenblum of Inera, for example, has written to Microsoft this week:

"If you detect no sense of urgency to upgrade systems in this vertical market, you are not mistaken. For most scholarly publishers, the challenge is to publish high quality and accurate information on a regular schedule. Software upgrades to critical publishing systems, unless they are seamless or provide a significant immediate benefit, are often not a priority.

In the case of Word 2007, upgrading is not seamless. Because files incorporating OMML equations are not semantically backwards compatible with older versions of Word, publishers must update an entire ecology of systems before they can accept DOCX files. Completing such updates requires work with third parties, careful testing, training, and finally deployment -- often one system at a time -- of updated applications. All of this takes time.

In the mean time, because a DOCX file with OMML equations renders the equations as graphics when used with today's systems, it's easier for publishers to ask authors to refrain from submitting DOCX files until every part of the workflow ecology is DOCX-compatible. And not just updated to accept DOCX, but also updated so that OMML can seamlessly be integrated into systems today that provide publishers with full text XML and tagged math according to the NLM DTD or other 12083-derived DTDs.

Had the conversion from DOCX to DOC provided a conversion from OMML to Equation Editor format, it would have provided the necessary backwards compatibility for publishers to upgrade one system at a time. But because this compatibility is not available, it's created the need for a "big bang" upgrade, or a delay until the ecosystem of inter-dependent systems is deliberately updated over time. In the environment of scholarly publishing, such substantive upgrades often take years, not months.

I hope this post clarifies some of the core issues DOCX format presents scholarly publishers and explains Word 2007 issues that are cause for publisher upgrade reticence. Those of us in the scientific community look forward to a dialog to articulate scholarly publishing requirements to Microsoft so that Microsoft can provide products that serve the needs of the entire scholarly community."

The classic insanity of the software market and the lack of intergenerational interoperability. Yet people still appear to be buying Vista in their millions.

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