OpenXML - Open for business

Small is Beautiful

This article was originally published on DNJ Online
DNJ Online

Small is beautiful

One of the benefits of Open XML that is often touted is its small file size, with statistics suggesting that Word 2007 documents can be a third the size of their equivalent in binary format, and Excel 2007 documents half the size. This is of course largely down to ZIP compression but also because the tags used by WordprocessingML, SpreadsheetML and PresentationML are very short – often just a single letter.

In a world where even a budget PC can boast a 160Gb hard drive, this may seem irrelevant. However the small file size comes into its own when delivering documents to mobile devices over GPRS, or to clients in places that do not have broadband.

Open XML is also handy where data connections are intermittent or unreliable, such as in the developing world. The usual solution for remote users with low-bandwidth connections is a Web site, linking them to backend services through ASP.NET or the like. However this does depend on a reliable connection. If the information is instead delivered in Open XML documents then these can be downloaded in bulk when the connection is good, edited off-line and then returned for further processing at the server.

Furthermore, the standardisation of Open XML means that such users could be using with an Open XML add-on, so avoiding the cost of an Office 2007 installation.

Customising the user interface

One of the most obvious innovations in Office 2007 is the new ‘ribbon’ menu employed by Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2007. You can customise this ribbon by creating an XML part that is recognised by these applications as defining a ‘customUI’. Add this to your Open XML document, create the necessary relationship, and your customised user interface will appear when the user opens the document. Alternatively you can use the Custom UI Editor Tool which you can download from

This facility is not part of the Open XML specification but is an example of how the file format can be extended to include application-specific data. The screenshot below shows how MindJet has added a MindManager tab to the Word 2007 ribbon.

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