Let the file format hairsplitting begin

Let the file format hairsplitting begin

Summary: Now that Microsoft has issued a special covenant not to sue developers -- even open source developers -- that develop software that supports its XML-based Office file formats, the entire industry (OK, a goodly portion of it) is holding breath to see how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will respond.  Originally, Massachusetts sent Microsoft and its file formats packing on the basis that they didn't satisfy the state's test for openness.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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Now that Microsoft has issued a special covenant not to sue developers -- even open source developers -- that develop software that supports its XML-based Office file formats, the entire industry (OK, a goodly portion of it) is holding breath to see how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will respond.  Originally, Massachusetts sent Microsoft and its file formats packing on the basis that they didn't satisfy the state's test for openness.  But, in its covenant not to sue, Microsoft has made its terms even more open than they were before.  Just how open? That depends on who you talk to.  Openness is in the eyes of the beholder. 

As I said last week, the move by Microsoft could turn the debate over what is open and what is not into such an extreme exercise in hairsplitting, that government officials with much more to worry about than this XML or that XML will simply tune it out (sort of like asking a beer drinker to tell you the difference between two appellations of the same wine).   But that isn't stopping Microsoft's competitors from trying their hardest to educate certain members of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's administration on the finer art of open standards now that the state appears to be warming up to Microsoft's latest olive branch.  In letter to Mass. Secretary of Administration and Finance Thomas Trimarco that was dated with today's date, Sun's director of corporate standards Carl Cargill wrote:

Just as an agency would not purchase a product before its actual availability, so too would it be a mistake to rely on a single vendor’s promise to submit a new product to a standards body at some point in the future. The Commonwealth owes no less to its taxpaying citizens.....This process should not end with the acceptance of a promise from those who seek to maintain a costly status quo, which accrues only to one company’s bottom line and denies the citizens of the Commonwealth the value they deserve from their tax dollars.

I've posted the full text of the letter here.  So far, this is the only vendor letter I know of.  There could be more in the coming days.

Topic: Open Source

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4 comments
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  • There Are Also Technical Comparisons Already

    These aren't aimed directly at the MA Govt though. Alex Hudson, J. David Eisenberg, Bruce D'Arcus and Daniel Carrera of the OpenDocument Fellowship have written several already;

    For Example;

    "Office 2003 XML format

    The main failing of this format - and probably the reason Microsoft have abandoned it - is that everything is thrown into a single XML file, and if it cannot be represented (and many elements can not be), it is just encoded as binary data. This is in contrast to the other formats here.

    Also, much mark-up is quite un-XML, for example:

    <w:r><w:rPr><w:b/></w:rPr><w:t>bold text</w:t></w:r>

    ... might be equivalent to <text:span text:style-name="emphasis">some text</text:span> in OpenDocument. Since everything is in the same file, we have style and content thrown together, which makes it difficult to extract those parts you want without having to filter out everything else.

    Images, etc., are embedded as binary such as <w:binData w:name="wordml://00000001.jpg">A823FB1D091..., where the hexadecimal text is encoded binary. With OpenDocument, there is a proper reference to the image in the file, and the file in included in the OpenDocument 'bundle'. "

    http://opendocumentfellowship.org/Articles/TechnicalComparison
    http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20051125144611543

    For those who claim that MSXML is not new should pay attention becuase Office 2003 is not Ofice 12 XML or MS OPENXML

    The MS format is untested and is new. ODF on the otherhand has been around since OO 1.1.5. It also is already implemented in Abiword, Koffice, and several shareware products. Sun and IBM have announced support for ODF products and Corel is also onboard.
    Edward Meyers
  • Packaging

    Aside from some admittedly paranoid [1] workarounds that MS could use to get past their "covenant not to sue," there is another issue. The [u]MS Office 2003 XML schema[/u] is covered by the covenant, and MS promises to extend similar terms for the MSO12 schema but the packaging is covered by the usual EULA.

    Which means that the MSO12 files are still Microsoft-only.

    [1] Then again, we [i]are[/i] talking about Microsoft here.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Split Ends

    I don't like the use of the phrase 'Hair Splitting' to describe the decision that MA must make.

    Hair splitting suggests a decision that is based on criteria that are not weighty enough to warrant consideration by or'nry folk - that the decision might be made on peripheral issues.

    Microsoft's Office 12 was not going to make the cut because Microsoft's licensing terms did not pass MA's test for openness. If Microsoft has found a way to pass the openness test then Office 12 will, again, be a future candidate supply option for MA.

    This is not hair splitting - this is a fundamental issue about how a public body can ensure that it meets some basic needs of its customers.

    Only MA can say whether Microsoft's moves have ensured that it will now pass their test, and they have always been clear that they will reconsider Office 12's position if Microsoft address their weighty, legitimate, concerns.
    Stephen Wheeler
  • I still can't see how MSXML can be supported unless transformation engine

    AFAIK other people's tools cannot author MSXML according to the licence, and on a practical level since the style information is unreadable.
    So in this sense it's less readable to anyone else than a Microsoft Word 97 document!

    If MA make a transformation engine consisting of a single PC running a custom agent, which fires up word to transform from something sensible to MSXML, then that will allow MA to author in a proper XML tool (with all the cost savings that brings), and post this stupid format in addition to HTML, PDF and ODF to a website.
    hipparchus2001