Nascent

Word 2007 and the STM Publisher Ecosystem

As the CTO of Nature Publishing Group, I have become involved in a very lively conversation with Microsoft staff about why Word 2007 is not being actively endorsed by STM publishers. It has recently come to Microsoft’s attention (see blogs Murray Sargent and Brian Jones) that Nature ( http://www.nature.com/nature/authors/submissions/template/index.html ), Science ( http://www.sciencemag.org/about/authors/prep/docx.dtl), and many other scholarly publishers do not accept files authored in Word 2007. Both Science and NPG have been in correspondence with Microsoft staff on this important issue. The staff there have been very willing to engage in this conversation. As Inera is one of NPG’s main suppliers of Word macros (eXtyles) and a general expert on Word, I asked Bruce Rosenblum of Inera to enter the discussion. The following was sent to Microsoft on 12 June 2007 by Bruce Rosenblum to explain why this situation exists.

“Over the past 10 years, Microsoft Word has become the standard for almost all content authoring. As a result of Microsoft’s success with Office, and the relative stability of the Office environment and DOC format over that time, third parties have built sophisticated applications to address specific vertical market requirements for integration of Word into highly efficient workflows.

eXtyles is one such application; eXtyles is a suite of editorial and XML tools for Word in wide use by scholarly publishers. But eXtyles is only one organism in the larger ecosystem of domain-specific applications dedicated to scholarly publishing. Other tools include online submission and peer review applications, and other applications used in the post-editorial production workflow.

Like eXtyles, most of the applications in this workflow ecology are not yet compatible with DOCX format. For example, I surveyed the four largest vendors of online submission and peer review systems this week, and none support DOCX files. Nor could any of the four provide me with a date when they expect to have native DOCX compatibility.

If you detect no sense of urgency to upgrade systems in this vertical market, you are not mistaken. For most scholarly publishers, the challenge is to publish high quality and accurate information on a regular schedule. Software upgrades to critical publishing systems, unless they are seamless or provide a significant immediate benefit, are often not a priority.

In the case of Word 2007, upgrading is not seamless. Because files incorporating OMML equations are not semantically backwards compatible with older versions of Word, publishers must update an entire ecology of systems before they can accept DOCX files. Completing such updates requires work with third parties, careful testing, training, and finally deployment — often one system at a time — of updated applications. All of this takes time.

In the mean time, because a DOCX file with OMML equations renders the equations as graphics when used with today’s systems, it’s easier for publishers to ask authors to refrain from submitting DOCX files until every part of the workflow ecology is DOCX-compatible. And not just updated to accept DOCX, but also updated so that OMML can seamlessly be integrated into systems today that provide publishers with full text XML and tagged math according to the NLM DTD or other 12083-derived DTDs.

Had the conversion from DOCX to DOC provided a conversion from OMML to Equation Editor format, it would have provided the necessary backwards compatibility for publishers to upgrade one system at a time. But because this compatibility is not available, it’s created the need for a “big bang” upgrade, or a delay until the ecosystem of inter-dependent systems is deliberately updated over time. In the environment of scholarly publishing, such substantive upgrades often take years, not months.

I hope this post clarifies some of the core issues DOCX format presents scholarly publishers and explains Word 2007 issues that are cause for publisher upgrade reticence. Those of us in the scientific community look forward to a dialog to articulate scholarly publishing requirements to Microsoft so that Microsoft can provide products that serve the needs of the entire scholarly community.”

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