Sun Microsystems has expressed concerns that document protection tools that Microsoft will include in Office 2003 will fortify the software giant's domination over enterprise desktops.
In a document never before released outside Sun, but shared with ZDNet Australia this week, Laurie Wong, Sun Microsystems software product manager, argued that while document rights management was a positive step, Microsoft was using its rights management regime to protect its "monopoly".
According to Wong, Microsoft's adoption of rights management services would negate any positive impact that might have resulted from its decision to adopt open standards for its file storage format.
"In summary, on the one hand Microsoft claim[s] to have opened up the storage format from a proprietary binary one to XML, an open one. On the other they have locked this 'open' format up with rights management," wrote Wong, adding "Yes, a couple of deck chairs have been shifted around, but you certainly are not on a different ship. It is a vexatious issue, promulgated by the extremes of proprietary thinking".
Wong argued that Windows RMS locks out members of the community using non-Microsoft products by coupling document protection systems to proprietary features of Microsoft's latest server technology.
Windows RMS is designed to give enterprises control over their documents by specifying who can access them and how they can be used at the time they are created.
Windows RMS requires the list of restrictions attached to each document to be registered on a RMS-capable Microsoft server. The server authenticates each user and issues him or her with a license to use an RMS-protected document. Anyone without access to the RMS technology server is effectively locked out of a protected document.
When concerns about this were raised when Microsoft announced its rights management technology early this year, the company said that RMS was targeted for internal corporate use and that it could be incorporated into the Passport service for wider community inclusion.
However, Wong is not satisfied by either argument. Nodding in the direction of the global divide between the technology have and have-nots, Wong said that users shouldn't be forced to buy one company's products for the privilege of using widely used document formats.
Adding to Wong's concerns, Microsoft has added the capability to apply rights management to emails and Web pages through Outlook 2003 and Internet Explorer.
"You don't want to be the owner of 'all' the rights management for a document created by other people," said Wong.
Wong argues that RMS applied to widely-used documents should adhere to a model that uses an authentication mechanism that is "inclusive".
"One would have imagined that it could have been implemented with or like PGP, where an "open and neutral entity" manages the authentication," he said.
Wong pointed to the public key authentication mechanism behind PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) which he described as an "open and neutral entity".