Microsoft has announced that the next version of Microsoft Office will use, BY DEFAULT, new OPEN XML File Formats.  Scoble's post that started it all for me.  Scoble's also uploaded a video on a Channel 9 Post.  Brian Jones is a Program Manager for MS Word, and he has the straight scoop with an entry on his blog.   The Official Press Release.

But wait - I thought that we had XML support in prior versions of MS Office?  Well, yes, we did...  but they weren't the Default File Format, and they were large... big... huge...  Some word documents that were saved in the XML file format were so large that they had their own weather systems.  The new and improved XML file formats for MS Office are smaller.  Up to 75 percent smaller.  Some combination of XML and XIP technologies combined.  No more WordprocessingML?  Nope.  Real XML.  Of course, the next version of MS Office will still be able to read all the old versions, so you won't have to have the new version installed side-by-side with your old version of MS Office.  (heh.)

This is cool.  This means that instead of always having to worry about converting the word and excel documents that contain the data that runs our companies to a format that other systems can read, or converting them down to a .txt or .xml format with a custom schema (.xsd), we can jsut send the word or excel file itself.  (Or powerpoint, but I'm not sure how many integrations to BizTalk or a back-end ERP system are goign to leverage .ppt yet...)  It is certainly easy to see how sending Excel XML files would accelerate the adoption of XML-Based messaging hubs within companies and in between companies...  It will be fun to watch and see what else the MS Office team comes out with before this next version is launched.