Microsoft ECMA/ISO move could give Office formats new lease on life

Microsoft ECMA/ISO move could give Office formats new lease on life

Summary: I'm trying to grab a few vacation days here during the short week. But the news that Microsoft is looking to establish its Office XML Reference Schema (the new file format for it's Office productivity suite) as an International Organization of Standardization (ISO) ratified standard has pulled me out of hiding for at least one blog.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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I'm trying to grab a few vacation days here during the short week. But the news that Microsoft is looking to establish its Office XML Reference Schema (the new file format for it's Office productivity suite) as an International Organization of Standardization (ISO) ratified standard has pulled me out of hiding for at least one blog.

The announcement is very significant With so many companies behind ODF, things could eventually swing in ODF's favor. to any discourse taking place in any organization over the merits of Microsoft's file format versus that OASIS-stewarded OpenDocument Format (ODF) which, until yesterday's announcement, was the more freely deployable of the two by third party developers (particularly open source developers).  That "openness" gave the Commonwealth of Massachusetts the assurances it was looking for in hopes of guaranteeing the availability of its public documents in perpetuity: something it was nervous about, given its reliance on Microsoft's formats.  The state had at one point been considering Microsoft's formats but backed away from that idea when Microsoft denied the state's requests to make its formats even more open than they were. (See "Microsoft: We were railroaded in Massachusetts on ODF.")  Namely, the state asked Microsoft to turn control of its XML-based file formats over to a multi-party body or consortium and to redact some of language in its patent license that, according to open source experts, prevented the free flow of the formats through the open source development community.  In an effort to trim costs, many governments, including the the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, are considering usage of open source software in lieu of more expensive "closed source" solutions like Microsoft Office.

Microsoft refused to budge.  And so, in a move that spawned significant technical, political, and hi tech industry controversies, the state set ODF as its official file format standard for creating, saving, editing, retrieving, and archiving the electronic versions of of its documents.  Microsoft Office is currently on about 90 percent of the state's desktops.  Other governments and large organizations have been contemplating similar moves. 

So, now the big question for many is, did Microsoft budge? I would argue that the even bigger question is "Even if Microsoft didn't budge, does it matter?"  Judging by the news reports, many of which bear a headline that explicitly states that Microsoft has opened its file formats, it certainly appears as though Microsoft has budged.   Most of those reports, however, were published by news organizations that are unfamiliar with the sort of hairsplitting that must be done to tell a completely open standard from one that is not quite so completely open. (I'm refraining from usage of the word "closed" because the patent license to Microsoft's Office XML Reference Schema makes the file format more open than any of its predecessors.)  For example, it's certainly much better for a specification like Microsoft's Office file formats to have the blessing of the ISO than not. 

However, in this case, all we know is that Microsoft's file formats will eventually get submitted for consideration by the ISO.  Approval is a completely different question.  Especially since ODF is already under consideration by the ISO for that organization's imprimatur.  This raises questions about what happens next at the ISO. Knowing that an alternative to ODF could land in its lap in the coming months, will the ISO put the brakes on its current deliberations over ODF until it can vet the two side by side?  Or, supposing ODF does get the ISO's imprimatur; under what conditions might the organization also give its imprimatur to Microsoft file formats? The bottom line on the ISO angle is that, so far, there's no guarantee that Microsoft's formats (or ODF for that matter) will get the standard organization's approval.  All anyone has to hang their hat on right now in terms of the ISO is that Microsoft has announced its intentions to seek the ISO's ratification.  Meanwhile, to Microsoft's fortunate advantage, most of the reports are discussing that intention as though ratification is a done deal.  It is not.  Lucky Microsoft.

One thing we know about ISO standards is that they're not necessarily "open" standards.  To be fair, "open" is in the eyes of the beholder and I'm sure there are some that might consider all ISO standards to be open standards.  But the definition of open is a moving target and some standards consortia like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) modernized what is meant by "open standard" by forcing contributors to its specifications to give up most of the rights normally afforded to them by virtue of their patents.  For example, the language currently found in Microsoft's patent license for its Office XML Reference Schema would most likely prevent the W3C from considering any Web technology to which the same licensing language is applied as a "recommendation." (The W3C calls its standards "recommendations.")  However, that same licensing language easily falls within the ISO's limits of acceptability for specifications under its consideration. 

In terms of whether Microsoft has budged or not, this raises the question of how, if at all, the licensing language will change.  Will it ease some of the restrictions that caused it to fail Massachusetts' test or will it stick by the existing license?  Again, I haven't been able to discuss the issue with any Microsoft officials yet and very little is known about the answer to this question.  While Microsoft has not published a new license, there is some evidence that Microsoft may be budging on its existing language.  A report by News.com's Martin LaMonica stated that "As part of its standardization effort, Microsoft will change the license in order to remove 'virtually all the barriers' for developers working with the file formats." Via email, LaMonica gave me more details from his notes saying that the following quotes are attributable to Microsoft general manager Alan Yates:

"Along with moving to open standards we're going to be further expanding the license to make clear to virtually all developers that there are no barriers to working with the license" and "We're taking an approach that's basically a promise from Microsoft not to sue developers so it's a very simple very clear very high level promise."

Additionally, in his blog, Microsoft technology evangelist Robert Scoble quotes Microsoft's Jean Paoli as saying:

"We are offering a broad 'covenant not to sue' to anyone who uses our formats. This is a new approach that continues our open and royalty-free approach. We think it will be broadly appealing to developers, including most open source developers."

So, it sounds very much like Microsoft intends to loosen some of the restrictions that developers are forced to comply with under the current patent license for its Office XML Reference Schema.  But, I say that with some important caveats.  First, we have yet to see the covenant not to sue and second, Paoli says "most open source developers."  Not "all" open source developers.  "Most." What exactly is meant by this remains to be seen.  In particular, what Microsoft means by "most" deserves heavy scrutiny because the company already has public track record of misspeaking when it comes to the applicability of the Office formats license to open source development. 

In a prior round of interviews, Yates told me that "Our license may not be compatible with the GPL, but it is compatible with many other open source licenses."  But after I challenged him on the word "many," Yates fell back to a far less broadly applicable statement saying ""While it is beyond my capacity to analyze [all of the open source licenses listed on the Open Source Initiative's Web site], we think that there is no problem with the two most used, key alternatives to the GPL; the LGPL and the BSD licenses."  In other words, in the span of a couple of days, Microsoft went from saying "many" (there are 57 different open source licenses that are officially recognized by the Open Source Initiative) to two.  And even then, open source legal experts such as Larry Rosen didn't exactly agree with Microsoft's assessment (see MS-Office schema not as open source-friendly as Microsoft says it is).

Another foggy area of the announcement that will get clearer as time passes is the ECMA portion of the announcement.  ECMA is a technology consortium that's similar in structure to OASIS, the organization  that stewards the ODF specification.  There are two obvious reasons behind Microsoft's choice of ECMA as the organization that will steward the Office XML Reference Schema.  First, ECMA, as it turns out, is in a special class of consortia that can put a specification on the ISO's "fast track." Second, its intellectual property policy allows vendors to maintain a significant amount of legal control over the specifications they submit for "ratification." 

Microsoft used this "path" once before when it decided to submit certain subsets of its .NET technology -- the Common Language Infrastructure (CLI) and the C# programming language -- to the ISO for ratification as standards.  I touched on the implications of this move in a column that I wrote back in 2002 (see Will C# benefit Microsoft, or the industry?).  In yesterday's announcement, Microsoft stated that other ECMA members such as Apple , Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel, NextPage, StatOil and Toshiba will be involved in the specific ECMA technical committee that's responsible for stewardship of the Office XML Reference Schema file formats.  But again, to the question of whether or not Microsoft has budged, recall that one of Massachusetts' requirements was that the specification be subject to multi-party stewardship.  What is so far unclear is the extent to which this part of the announcement qualifies.  Given the degree of legal control that ECMA intellectual property policy permits, the extent to which those other organizations will actually get involved in the stewardship of the file formats is unclear. Not only that, the actual structure of the technical committee-- including who is in charge, who gets to vote on proposed changes, etc.-- is so far unclear.

In a series of e-mails and phone calls with me yesterday, the Association for Competitive Technology's vice president of public affairs Morgan Reed III said that control of the OASIS technical committee that oversees the OpenDocument Format is deserving of equal scrutiny.  Wrote Reed, "it would appear that Sun and IBM are pretty dominant [when it comes to control of OpenDocument].  In fact, they have 6 votes, representing a full majority of the 11 non-probationary voting members."  It's a fair point which, in defining "openness" perhaps raises the question of how open these technical committees are to the involvement of additional parties and what it means to be a voting member. 

Microsoft for example is a member of OASIS and has been invited to participate in the deliberations of the consortium's ODF Technical Committee but hasn't so far.  In the case of OASIS, it is true that IBM and Sun -- two companies that have been squaring off against Microsoft on the issue of file formats in Massachusetts -- have a majority of the votes.  But, two things are important about those votes.  First, they are votes when it comes to deciding on the features of the specification and not on whether or not the specification gets the OASIS imprimatur. 

Not only is Microsoft free to join the technical committee, it is also free to send six representatives to all of the technical committee's meetings and then each of those representatives would get to vote on feature decisions.  In fact, the only requirement for an employee of a OASIS member organization like Microsoft to get "a vote" is to attend most of the meetings and deliberations (the organization frowns on absentee involvement).  Then, once a technical committee finishes its work, the specification advances to a higher level where each of OASIS' member organizations (Microsoft is one such member) gets a single vote.  For a specification to get the OASIS imprimatur,  at least 15 percent of the member organizations must approve and no more than 10 percent can disapprove.  In other words, once a specification advances from the technical committee to OASIS-level voting, little stands in the way of approval.  The bottom line is that Microsoft is free to get involved at a very active and influential level when it comes to ODF.

The question that must then be asked once the ECMA technical committee (TC) overseeing the Office XML Reference is officially formed is, to what extent other organizations -- Sun and IBM for example -- can not only join the TC, but influence the overall outcome as well.  I want to be clear here.  Just because I don't have the answer doesn't mean I'm implying that Sun and IBM don't have that opportunity. They may very well have it.  But, in an effort to get this out while I'm on vacation, I'm bypassing some research and just saying here's a question that deserves answering as the world looks to explore just exactly how much Microsoft has budged here and whether or not its Office XML Reference Schema has taken a giant step towards becoming the international open standard that most of the news is making it out to suddenly be.

Finally, there is the bigger question of whether any of this hairsplitting actually matters.  I'm reminded of the recent Halloween Hearing in Massachusetts where a state senator who, in the days before the hearing, was inspecting a weakened dam that was threatening to burst and flood the town of Taunton, MA, was presiding over the hairsplitting hearing.  Should the Office XML Reference Schema get the imprimatur of the ISO, it will most certainly weigh heavily on the decision-making process where ever there is someone who doesn't have the will, the time, or the interest to understand what the imprimatur of the ISO really means.  Imagine for example the expertise it requires for a wine expert to discern between two different appellations of the same wine from the same region. Then, ask a beer drinker to tell the same difference.  The beer drinker will tell you that both are wine. 

My point is that if this move by Microsoft gives the appearance of the company budging much more than it really has, I can't imagine asking decision makers like politicians to appreciate why, when the company's file formats have the approval of the ISO (if it gets that approval which again, is a big if), the formats still aren't as open as they need to be. In other words, if Microsoft actually budged and budged big, that will be a great sigh of relief for everyone.  But if it didn't, it may not matter anyway.  ODF's struggle just got markedly more difficult than it was the day before yesterday.  And, for those organizations that are waiting to make decisions about file formats in the longer term, it probably won't matter which format is more open than the other. What will matter and what has always mattered is how widespread the support from third parties is.  With so many companies-- including powerful ones like IBM, Sun, and Google-- behind ODF, things could eventually swing in ODF's favor.  But there's still time for those and other developers to support Microsoft's formats as well, which means ODF will have to dig in because it could be a long uphill David-and-Gliath battle for the new file format.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Covenant not to sue...

    This seems like an ambitious move from Microsoft. Of course, from that "covenant not to sue" line, I imagine that instead of opening a can of worms, anyone who tries to sue them in this case would be opening the Ark of the Covenant.

    Of course, given how much we hear about Microsoft going against de jure standards as pertaining to HTML and the like, I wonder what many folks' reactions to this will be.
    Third of Five
  • There are two hidden issues: Patents and RAND

    If you read the current "open" licenses that MS grants, they effectively say:

    Microsoft doesn't know about any patents in their portfolio that pertain to this product. If it turns out that they do have a patent that pertains to this product, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (RAND) access will be provided.

    Unfortunately, RAND only means that Microsoft will provide the same terms to all corporations wishing to use the technology- this makes it a dealbreaker for anyone who distributes an open source product. It's trivial for them to product a submarine patent sometime down the road and shut down a project.

    Microsoft's long legacy of gaming the standards system, malicious FUD against all competitors (open source and commercial), and recent temper tantrums ("Google? I'm going to F****ing kill those guys!" and "We're going to cut off Netscape's air supply") suggest that anyone who doesn't see a huge hole in their "covenant not to sue" is a microsoft apologist, or an idiot.
    arny279
    • What does it mean in legal e's

      I agree here. MS can make themselves look good with giving terms that seem open but completely incompatable with the GPL. I think we need a standard definition of what an "Open Standard" really is!!!

      I hope Dan and the rest of the tech news industry will push the issue that MS needs to release the file format under similar terms that Adobe has release PDF. This would allow ODF 2.0 to fold in the best parts of MS's format into the next version of the standard. MS is already free to fold in the best parts of ODF.
      TomM_z
      • GPL isn't exactly a gold standard...

        I agree that Microsoft should make their file formats open standards with no royalties to implement. I also think that they should do the same with NTFS, it would make my life much, much easier to live. However, I don't think that GPL is the answer.

        "I agree here. MS can make themselves look good with giving terms that seem open but completely incompatable with the GPL. I think we need a standard definition of what an "Open Standard" really is!!!"

        I am not quite sure why, but people toss around GPL like it is the gold standard of license terms. The BSD license is great. It probably is the gold standard, in my mind. GPL is awesome for those who want to merely use software, but for a developer or anyone who wants to extend someware that is GPLed, it is your worst dream come true.

        Imagine taking a piece of open source software and baking your company's "secret sauce" into it. The business logic that makes your comapny better or more efficient that the competition. Guess what? You now have the right, privilege, and LEGAL OBLIGATION to release your "secret sauce" to the community.

        PDF was done right. Java is done wrong. BSD is done perfect. GPL is done wrong. Microsoft should open their formats with a BSD-esque license, which would make everyone happy, as far as I can tell.

        J.Ja
        Justin James
        • The thing with the the BSD license is that

          everyone loves *other* people to release their stuff under BSD. The amount of love drops off sharply when it comes to licensing their own stuff under BSD. :-)
          mosborne
          • Excellent point! But that is a license's goal?

            Mosbourne -

            That is an excellent point, it's part of the reason why the trend is for applications get ported *to* BSD *from* Linux. Of course, for major stuff like TCP/IP stacks, it seems to go the other way around...

            I think one's stance on GPL/BSD/Closed/Open/Proprietary/Blah boils down to one's conception of what the goal of a license is. For a commerical software house, the goal is to be able to monetize a product to their maximum ability. For some shops, GPL is per fect for them, because they force the community to give back to them and they can try to make money on the services, or perhaps having an "upscale" version of the software that may be a version or two ahead of what the public version is. For other companies, it means taking an existing platform and adding the "secret sauce". And for yet other companies, it means making the entire system a hermetically sealed black box.

            Many people, myself included, beleive that things work best when people contribute back to the community. Some people (not myself) feel that the ebst way for that to happen is to force anyone who touches their code to have to re-release it into the wild (GPL). Others, such as myself, feel that forcing them to do so scares people away from developing high-end, professional grade systems, defeating the purpose.

            It's all in how you look at the world. :)

            J.Ja
            Justin James
        • You took a left turn

          The standard isn't really "open" if it can't be used by GPL. I am involved with 4 open source projects and non of them are GPL.

          Open standards don't use Open Source licenses. If GPL can use the standard then any of the other open source license are covered as the GPL is the most restrictive.

          So as far as testing restrictions on use, the GPL is the Gold Standard.
          TomM_z
        • Re.: GPL isn't exactly a gold standard...

          >You now have the right, privilege, and LEGAL
          >OBLIGATION to release your "secret sauce" to the
          >community.

          Not quite.

          Only if you redistribute the code containing your "secret sauce". You are under no obligation to `release' anything otherwise.
          gtwilliams
  • Microsoft v ODF

    Irrespective of how much "shifting" is done, it will never alter the equation "Microsoft = greed over megalomania" which is the only conclusion that can drawn from the battle for absolute market domination.
    cheverst9
  • So far, comments not willing to give MS benefit of doubt...

    I understand the reticence to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. But I think we should keep an open mind until more details emerge. You have to remember that a company so entrenched in one way of doing things isn't going to turn on the dime. To it's credit, it has shifted in the open direction on some fronts. Maybe not all fronts and maybe not to the extent that everyone would like to see. But depending on what details emerge from this, we could see yet another open-positive shift from the most open of positions that the company has already adopted.

    db
    dberlind
    • Scenario

      If Microsoft truly wants to have an open document format then why not just use OpenDocument?

      This is the scenario that I see playing out with this move. Microsoft will keep control of their ?open standard?. They probably will not sue anyone that uses it. That would create to much bad press. Once everyone is nicely hooked on Microsoft's standard which will not take long since most everyone is hooked now. Microsoft will then create version 2.0 of their XML specification. However, this will not be a standard and all Microsoft's competitors will not be allowed to use it. This means all of Microsoft's competitors will be left at a dead-in. Microsoft will then continue to dominate all office software sales. The competitors will not be able to extend the original ?open standard? because of the license agreement. It will be worded in a way to make it illegal to make derivative works that are not directly approved by Microsoft.

      This isn't to far fetched for a convicted monopolist to do.
      dragosani
      • Scenario management

        I would say that at this point, given no information, the range of possible scenarios varies from the extreme you described to the other end where it's completely open. We'll just have to wait for the details.

        db
        dberlind
        • Keep your enemies closer...

          David,

          I hear your plea for restraint. However, most of the venomous comments here are tinted by Microsoft's observed behavior. As you say, they are a behemoth and slow to turn. Likewise, they become an immovable object when, with their license leash around your neck, they hold firm when you gain momentum running, only to jerk you right off your feet when you reach the leash limit. It is hard perception to overcome and rush to judgement will always be there. Too many of us have little faith that Microsoft will give consideration to anything, other than their own ability to control what users and developers use, in order to make a profit and maintain a revenue stream. Preferably one that grows at a double digit rate over time to keep that cash reservoir full.
          markgros9
      • Derivative Works

        That really is one of the primary keys here and what sets Adobe PDF licensing apart. You can create derivative works as long as you don't call it PDF. As I mentioned in another response, you can say you won't sue anyone and still make the license a poisen pill for GPL'd programs.
        TomM_z
    • Chicken or the egg

      Which came first?

      Did Microsoft opened up their formats on their own and had been on course to doing that all along (if you can believe for the benefit of their customers) or have they done so only recently in response to the challenge posed by ODF?

      From my perspective, you need the chicken to produce the egg and a fairly healthy chicken at that. If we become distracted and jump on the Open XML bandwagon prematurely, we'd be starving the ODF hen that has gotten us this far even before we gotten to where we need to go.

      The only way to ensure the health of our mother hen is to feed it and grow it so that it produces a truly open standards offspring for mass market adoption. This means that both government and the private sector must remain steadfast in their commitment to ODF in their own long-term best interest.

      In my opinion, now is the time for government and industry to increase their investment in ODF rather than allow it to taper off in anticipation of Microsoft opening their format completely...some day.
      peterlwu9
    • Chicken or the egg

      Which came first?

      Did Microsoft opened up their formats on their own and had been on course to doing that all along (if you can believe for the benefit of their customers) or have they done so only recently in response to the challenge posed by ODF?

      From my perspective, you need the chicken to produce the egg and a fairly healthy chicken at that. If we become distracted and jump on the Open XML bandwagon prematurely, we'd be starving the ODF hen that has gotten us this far even before we gotten to where we need to go.

      The only way to ensure the health of our mother hen is to feed it and grow it so that it produces a truly open standards offspring for mass market adoption. This means that both government and the private sector must remain steadfast in their commitment to ODF in their own long-term best interest.

      In my opinion, now is the time for government and industry to increase their investment in ODF rather than allow it to taper off in anticipation of Microsoft opening their format completely...some day.
      peterlwu9
    • I agree with you to a point...

      The one thing everyone must bear in mind is MS's history in saying one thing. But, then when it comes down to the bottom line. It's not at all what they said it would be. And that's a LONG history of such.

      Now, on the other hand, if they stick to what they said, or (God forbid ;-) ) actually exceed what they were going to do (In terms of opening up). I would have to say 2 things then. 1st, WOW! 2nd Open-Source must be scareing the sh!t out of them ;-O
      bchesmer
    • In the absense of information

      all we really have is character.

      WRT Microsoft, that takes us right to the fable of the camel and the scorpion.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
  • The purity (and anguish) of the revolutionary.

    You refer to actions which are effectively confiscation of Microsoft's IP as "modern". Actually, taking property of value for common purposes has an old and painful history.

    I'm arguing that the standard for evaluating Microsoft's opening of their formats and schemae should be whether business can be done with the degree of openness that Microsoft permits.
    "Business" does not have to include every single developer or every single purpose. It refers to the generality of activities which can produce a profit for those doing the work.

    I know that you have an ideal definition of "open", and I respect the philosophical conviction that represents. My response is that such purity is not necessary, and adds nothing of value except the achievement of the ideal itself.
    Let Microsoft make money, including by use of IP, in the same way that the company for which you work is allowed to profit from ownership of prose and ideas.

    To the quotes.

    The Massachusetts situation is not a completed decision, if for no other reason than that all those whose interests must be recognized have not approved.
    So when you wrote:

    That "openness" gave the Commonwealth of Massachusetts the assurances it was looking for in hopes of guaranteeing the availability of its public documents in perpetuity: something it was nervous about, given its reliance on Microsoft's formats. The state had at one point been considering Microsoft's formats but backed away from that idea when Microsoft denied the state's requests to make its formats even more open than they were.

    ... your references to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are overstated. If you had spoken of "a few runaway officals employed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts who were most influenced by the importuning of Microsoft's business opponents and extreme open source views", you would be only equally connotative (if more accurate :-) ), but in the opposite direction.

    Seems to me, the best way to refer to those making the decision is to specify the section of government for which they work(ed), rather than the whole government, implying action in unison.

    This is important here only to show that the government of MA is not on record as supporting ODF over Microsoft formats. And that means MA cannot serve as an example of a government finding Microsoft's openness insufficient.

    Oh, and the draft document had at one time approved Microsoft's formats, as you reported, and not just "considered" them. Might have been tentative, but the approval was there.


    Next, you argue that Microsoft's formats should be open in order to allow other products to compete with Microsoft Office more successfully:

    Namely, the state asked Microsoft to turn control of its XML-based file formats over to a multi-party body or consortium and to redact some of language in its patent license that, according to open source experts, prevented the free flow of the formats through the open source development community. In an effort to trim costs, many governments, including the the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, are considering usage of open source software in lieu of more expensive "closed source" solutions like Microsoft Office.

    I've heard of someone selling the rope which will be used to hang him, but even in that case the rope was not being given away free.

    You are pointing out very correctly that Microsoft's formats are a competitive advantage they would very much prefer not to surrender. And the ideal of openness is not necessarily more valuable than the ability of a company to survive and thrive.
    Turning the formats over to a committee of Microsoft's competitors does not appear to be a way to assure that the formats continue to improve in a way that advantages Microsoft against those very same competitors.


    Your conclusion, which I consider a valid and important insight, is that Microsoft's acyions here give the impression of great openness. Your concern is that this may mean people and organizations will be satisfied with what Microsoft has done, rather than insisting that they (self-destructively) meet your ideal definition of openness.

    As you put it about "hairsplitting":

    I would argue that the even bigger question is "Even if Microsoft didn't budge, does it matter?"
    Judging by the news reports, many of which bear a headline that explicitly states that Microsoft has opened its file formats, it certainly appears as though Microsoft has budged.
    Most of those reports, however, were published by news organizations that are unfamiliar with the sort of hairsplitting that must be done to tell a completely open standard from one that is not quite so completely open.

    If Microsoft's formats are sufficiently open, based on a definition of sufficient other than the one you advocate, then the reports are accurate.

    Your definiton of open is not a "moving target", in the sense that you hold it consistently. Instead of a "moving target", think of it as openness having varying fixed definitions.

    here's what you wrote:
    But the definition of open is a moving target and some standards consortia like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) modernized what is meant by "open standard" by forcing contributors to its specifications to give up most of the rights normally afforded to them by virtue of their patents.

    That's confiscation of rights by the fiat of an organization. If that organization's approval is required, then the rights are confiscated.
    Confiscation is an old idea. The brazenness of implementing it in software may be somewhat novel, but readers of history know the situation well.


    You're so convinced of the rightness of your definition that you assume that only ignorance would oppose it:

    Should the Office XML Reference Schema get the imprimatur of the ISO, it will most certainly weigh heavily on the decision-making process where ever there is someone who doesn't have the will, the time, or the interest to understand what the imprimatur of the ISO really means.

    Suppose someone does have "the will, the time, [and] the interest", but also has a different definition of open.
    In that case he may know what the ISO imprimatur means and be satisfied by it.

    So ignorance may make Microsoft's strategy work. But full knowledge may also make it successful.

    Despite the criticisms here, your post is appreciated. As I read it, I wished only that you could understand that it's okay to make money (and hire many people and pay them good salaries) with software. I'd call it a blind spot, except you're not blind.
    I do hope, though, that you'll consider whether your definition is too pure, too reliant on an almost monastic definition of working on software.
    Anton Philidor
    • Is it confiscation?

      Yes, your point is taken--having strict control and access to
      their file formats is a business advantage for MS, no question,
      and that IP shouldn't be forcibly taken away from them.

      But on the other side, shouldn't a customer be able to set out
      terms for what they want for their software? The vendor, in this
      case MS, can decide if it wants to meet those terms. If it doesn't
      (if those terms require giving up the valuable advantage above),
      then the company can simply walk away from the deal. If the
      deal is good enough to offset the loss of the advantage, then
      they can jump in. Isn't that what's happening here? I see no one
      forcing MS to give up their IP. All I see is a customer making a
      demand that will meet their needs. MS is free to take that deal,
      or walk away, losing nothing other than that customer's
      business.
      tic swayback