The popular wisdom is that it takes Microsoft until Release 3 of anything to get it right; but the early word on the new Office XML format makes Release 2 look pretty good. Reading between the lines, the big news is, first, that the default file-save format is XML and, second, that the XML coverage is complete (In the current Office XML, PowerPoint is entirely absent and Excel has big holes). Assuming Microsoft pulls this off, it’s a major achievement. Along with patching those holes, working around the basic OLE-container-ness of everything has to be tricky; one of the nice things about MS Office is that you can jam pretty well anything that talks OLE into the middle of pretty well any Office doc and it just works. I have questions around the licensing: Brian Jones, linked above, says “royalty-free” but the current licensing language has some clauses that make lawyers nervous, so let’s wait and see on that one. At one level, it’s sad that while the rest of the world (including, lately, Adobe and IBM) has been hard at work on one wide-open, shareable, portable, standardized XML office document format, Microsoft put their energy into inventing another one. Still, this ought to be a step forward for Microsoft’s customers. The news coverage says “late 2006”; good luck to the team in the tough job of getting it shipped.