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Keywords: XML, XSLT, Excel, Word, Access, Microsoft Office
Title: Office 2003 XML For Power Users
Author: Matthew MacDonald
Verdict: A good book for users, though not enough detail for developers
The new XML features introduced in Microsoft Office 2003 are one of the main selling points of the upgraded office suite. Potentially they offer a major benefit in opening up office documents to other applications, as well as the ability to more easily create documents programmatically. Of course for most users the whole XML thing is a bit of a mystery. For most day-to-day tasks the XML features of Word or Excel are simply more examples of the feature-creep of MS Office.
However, for those users who want to find out more this book aims to provide a useful introduction both to XML and to the new Office functionality that is available to them. To that end the book begins at the beginning, introducing the core concepts of XML and showing what problems it aims to solve and what benefits it brings. The first chapter looks at XML in general while the second looks at XML schema (DTDs and W3C XML Schemas, alternative schemas such as Relax NG are not discussed in any detail). The writing is clear and the examples well chosen.
With the basics out of the way the book then moves to each of the major office applications: Excel, Word and Access. Note the order, this reflects how well XML fits the applications. Excel, dealing with highly structured spreadsheet data is clearly the best fit for data-centric XML applications. Word, dealing with more loosely structure documents comes next. Finally Access, which deals with relational data, comes last in that it has the least flexibility and functionality for dealing with XML. It's a strength of the book that it does not pander to the Office XML hype and clearly discusses tricky topics.
Having shown how to get the most of importing, exporting and using XML data the next chapter looks at WordML and SpreadsheetML, the 'native' XML formats for Word and Excel. Again the differences between Word and Excel are immediately apparent - where SpreadsheetML is fairly clean the structure of WordML is anything but. This is a useful chapter but it's not by any means a reference and the coverage of WordML is at a fairly high-level.
The final three chapters really move beyond the core topic. Chapter 7 is a fast introduction to XML transforms using XSLT. It's a useful primer to anyone new to the subject and it's a great example of why XML is worth looking at for Office users. The next chapter looks at a simple XML workflow example using web services. While the material is interesting it's not really end-user material and is more likely to be of interest to developers, for whom the treatment is bound to be too light. It provides a taster but that's all. The final chapter looks at InfoPath, the latest application to join the Office stable. Unlike the previous chapter this one is more likely to be of interest to the power user and it works as an introduction to the product.
In all this is an interesting and engaging introduction to the topic of XML and Office 2003. Developers looking for more technical material on programming will probably be disappointed, but this is a book that makes a good solid introduction for end-users looking to maximise the new functionality that Office provides.