In the mid 1990s a new text based document schema known as XML, a document markup language, was created with the goal of making complex documents more accessible, and which could be opened and read by a variety of software from editors to browsers, and everything in between. The docx format is Microsoft’s answer to the need for an open format that permits non-Microsoft applications access to the date contained within the document.
As part of Microsoft’s commitment to open file formats the docx format, which is just one of several new formats introduced by Microsoft, the responsibility for maintaining the format and ensuring standards compliance was passed to Ecma International, a non-governmental non-profit private standards organization in 2006. It has since been incorporated into several 3rd party applications mainly to assist with viewing, converting, or sharing word processed documents.
Docx differs from the previous default format used by MS Word, it is not a binary file that needs to be interpreted, instead, docx is a package of XML files that have been compressed together using the zip file format, a system used within MS Windows Explorer for its compressed folders functionality. When unzipped, the folder is found to contain several sub folders, all of which have at least one XML file used to store document properties, along with a single file under the ‘Word’ folder that contains the authored text.
The XML used within a docx file is specific to the needs of MS Office, but can be read in plain text using a text editor, and owning a licensed copy of MS Word or MS Works is not necessary to be able to read and print a docx document, although a word processor such as MS Word, AbiWord, or OpenOffice is needed to edit and then save a document in docx format.
Because the docx file is a zipped folder of XML files, it is possible for users to explore the folder structure and examine the XML code used. This also makes it easy for IT staff to make batch changes to multiple docx files, for example changing a corporate logo or the company registration number without having to open each file separately.
The open nature of the docx format makes it relatively easy for conversion software to be created that can be run on a local desktop or server, making the process of future proofing the archiving of documents less complex than in previous years. Management and storage costs are also reduced because the files are already zipped as an integral part of their schema.