Microsoft Will Pay i4i But Word Won’t Get Left Behind

Enterprises shouldn’t worry about the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals injunction barring Microsoft from selling Word 2007 and Office 2007 in the US on January 11, 2010. The court upheld a ruling that an XML feature included in Word infringed on a patent held by i4i. As i4i rejoices over its $290 million vindication award, Microsoft wants to stay focused and is preparing for the next major launch of Office. Even if the Supreme Court is requested to hear the case, Office 2010 doesn’t contain the XML feature in question, and past copies sold are not at risk.

But the case does raise some thoughts for approaches to generating and using XML for content management and delivery. XML and its numerous variations are core to a variety of content uses, from search and display to dynamic publishing, compliance, and file conversion. Most of this content originates in Word, which remains one of the most entrenched apps in the enterprise. And people like it. In fact, companies like i4i and Quark, with its XML Author for Microsoft Word, are doing good business enabling people to author in Word and make XML documents with no knowledge of XML.

The other common approach to generating XML content is to let people continue to use their favorite writing tool and do XML conversion post-authoring. Solutions like MarkLogic’s XML repository have also been doing a brisk business, taking unstructured content such as Office files and PDFs and automatically converting them to XML documents.

In the case of i4i, the “little used” feature, as Microsoft referred to it, was manifested in any Microsoft Word products that have the capability of opening .XML, .DOCX or DOCM files (XML files) containing custom XML. Indeed, it’s probably a relatively small number of users that would likely be manipulating Word files with custom XML. But there are some. For enterprises, where there’s a greater and greater requirement to store content in XML for the flexibility it affords, the question to ask is how do we get from authoring to custom XML. Word won’t be left behind, but it may also benefit from some help to make the most of what XML can do.

So how does your company approach creating XML content? Do you prefer to empower information workers, or does back-end conversion make more sense?