More on the royalty-free licenses for the Microsoft Office Open XML formats

Well, now that PDC is over I've had a chance to look into the issues and comments from our discussion the previous week. There continue to be a lot of comments about the licenses that we use for the Microsoft Office Open XML formats. The questions I've heard are:

  1. Are the licenses compatible with Open Source projects?
  2. Specifically are they compatible with the GPL?
  3. Is there a guarantee that Microsoft won't change the license out from under people? How accessible will these formats be 100 years from now?

As I've said in previous posts, I think the licenses are really a great step forward and for nearly all customers, there aren't really any negatives here. There are already a lot tools out there that evidently have had no problems working with our schemas. Sun for example chose the LGPL for Open Office. I’ve given you my thoughts on how I think our licensing program is compatible with the LGPL. In fact, I haven't seen a product yet that wanted to integrate with the Office schemas but wasn't able to. You can take a look at other formats, and they also have similar licenses.

Let's dig into the GPL issue as that's what folks were the most vocal about. I appreciate everyone's comments in the previous posts, and I wanted to specifically address Craig Ringer who has posted some very good comments on the GPL. People have asked for a yes/no answer for compatibility with the GPL, and the bottom line is I think he is right that the Microsoft license for the Office XML reference schemas is not compatible with the GPL. The GPL says that there can’t be a requirement that you give credit to the author of the program (something called “attribution”). The GPL also says that you can’t put a limitation on sublicensing IP rights. As Craig says, the Microsoft license has both these requirements, so it is not compatible with the GPL. Now, it is really up to you to decide whether or not those conditions are important to you, but from my point of view mentioning that the schema came from us and not sublicensing the IP rights seems to be totally reasonable. Those are really the only two issues I'm hearing that make them incompatible. There are other licenses similar to the GPL that don't have those added restrictions.

I know for a lot of people the GPL is sort of synonymous with “open source.” (I've read that the GPL is in the process of getting an overhaul by the way). I really don’t agree with that point of view. I think it is way too restrictive. There are tons of open source licenses listed on Are people saying none of those are any good except the GPL? Let’s also take this particular situation as an example. The Microsoft license says that you (developer) can write a program that can read and write the Office XML reference schemas, but you need to give Microsoft credit somewhere in your program simply stating that you've used our schemas. What’s wrong with that? I don’t see that as some super onerous restriction that should cause people to reject the license. I would say the same about the sublicensing issue. If the license is free and it’s available to anyone in the world, then what is the big deal? Once you write a program under the license, you are clearly covered.

Let me address a couple of other issues raised by Craig. He says:

... the license doesn't appear to be perpetually available. In other words, the terms can be changed at any time and apply to existing implementations. When software can be redistributed by end users and other companies, this is unlikely to work. Both the GPL and LGPL require that software can be redistributed by any end user.

The license actually is perpetual. Take a look, its right here: It says so right in the license grant and it is confirmed in the Q&A on the site. The Q&A is here:

I don’t really understand the point about it being changed at any time. If you accept the license, then you have a deal. Microsoft can’t come back later and say the deal is different. I don’t see any restrictions in this license on distribution of programs created under this license.

Here is another comment from Craig:

- IP/patents. The license its self looks otherwise reasonable, but has a giant loophole by not disclosing what other MS IP/patents may be required and offering to license them under the same terms. An open license to the formats is useless if the terms of the patent license required to make use of it are unsuitable.

This is one where I’m sympathetic. The patent language is difficult to read, but when I walk through it, it seems to say that all patents and patent applications that are applicable to this space are licensed. This is better than a situation where a company discloses certain patents and says those are licensed but doesn't tell you about what else is there. Microsoft is saying all of its patents and applications are licensed in this space, so you have no need to worry.

While we’re on this topic, I think it’s important that you all take a look at the comparable situation with Open Document. A lot of folks just seem to assume that since it’s a standard, there are no IP issues and everything is very straightforward. Well, take a look at this: Sun seems to be saying that it may have IP in the Open Document spec. While Sun says it is willing to provide a royalty-free license, one would still need to ask Sun for a license. The license is not posted. It would be interesting to see, and I'll probably try to see if I can find it. The statement on the site alone reveals that at a minimum, they have at least one condition – you have to give Sun a reciprocal license.

It’s also being reported that IBM is really pushing this agenda: What does IBM’s license look like? That would also be interesting to check out.

So, the answers to those questions listed above are:

  1. Yes we work with a large number of open source licenses (but not all).
  2. No, the GPL does not allow for the attribution and sub-licensing restrictions that the MS Office Open XML Formats licensing asks for.
  3. Yes the licenses are perpetual and you don't need to worry about them changing out from under you. The files you save will be freely accessible forever.

I hope that helps. Sorry we've had to spend so much time on this topic and not as much on the actual technologies and architectures of the formats. I'll try to get back into that ASAP since that's what most folks who've e-mailed me are more interested in.


Comments (54)

  1. Ed says:

    Why should any customer looking for long term solutions choose a format which restricts its competitors for no good reason?

    BTW listen to Massachussetts

    your man gets totally pwned

  2. Step says:

    Here’s my situation, which I’ll freely tell both you and the Open Source world (specifically Open Office):

    -At work, I use Office. That’s probably not going to change anytime soon, since as far as I can tell, it’s by far the most capable (and common) program in business.

    -We’re starting to load OOo (Open Office) on the computers with the systems we sell, b/c there’s no reason to pay for Office licenses all the time when they won’t even get used on most of the systems.

    -at home, we now use OOo, for various reasons, including not needing to pay for Office when there’s a free solution that meets our needs.

    Now here’s the dilemma: I ask my wife to send me a document from home, or otherwise need (occasionally) to interact with documents from one environment in the other. But if I can’t open the OOo doc format in Office, or vice-versa, then I really see only one solution that is remotely reasonable: install OOo on both computers, and use that to interact. Not my ideal solution, and not your ideal solution, b/c it may lead me to becoming comfortable enough with OOo to feel that it’s less and less necessary for our business.

    To sum up, as a consumer I don’t care about Microsoft’s formats, or Open Source formats, or anything else. I just want to be able to take my documents and use them openly. Then I can feel free to choose an Office Suite based on other factors.

  3. BrianJones says:

    Hey Ed, as I’ve said, all competitors that I’m aware of have no problems using the formats. OpenOffice already has support for the Word 2003 XML schemas.

    Step, what you describe is one of the big benefits of moving to an open documented format like we are doing. Of course just because a format is open, or even a standard for that matter, doesn’t mean that every application out there will support it. The key though is that with our XML formats, everyone can support it if they choose to. You mention two specific applications (MS Office and OpenOffice) where there actually are interoperable formats that already exist. OpenOffice supports Word 2003’s XML format, as well as legacy binary formats, HTML, and RTF (I believe). So, there are a number of formats that will work between these applications. As you state, most consumers don’t care about the formats, they just want to know that whatever they have in their documents won’t be lost.


  4. Eduardo says:

    Let me ask the key question again. If a substantial portion of Office users indicated that they would like Microsoft to add Open Document import/export capability to Office, would Microsoft do it?

    As I said before, don’t tell me you don’t expect that to happen. Microsoft has been wrong before, so the question is what it would do if users wanted this.

    Also don’t tell me you don’t know, it isn’t your decision. You know who would make the decision, so you can ask them.

    So would Microsoft add to Office the ability to import/export Open Document docs if a substantial portion of Office users wanted it? Or would Micrsoft say, "No, we won’t give it to you"? A simple answer yes, no, or maybe, is that is needed.

  5. Eduardo says:

    David Berlind yet again:

    Boy, he is really going after you guys.

  6. BrianJones says:

    Hey Eduardo, since you asked twice in a somewhat nice (but maybe a little condescending) manner I’ll address your hypothetical. 🙂

    We’re a business and as with all businesses we have a responsibility to our customers. The answer to your question is the same as any hypothetical about future functionality, there is no definitive yes or no answer. As with anything it would depend largely on the customer demand. If you asked me 5 years ago if we would eventually build default XML formats for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint; fully document them, and make them available under a royalty free license, I wouldn’t have been able to reply with a definitive answer.

    As with most features, if it’s clear that most of our customers want it, it usually will get implemented. If not by us, then some 3rd party will come along and do it. That’s how the economy works. If there is demand, then it will probably happen. While there are some customers (Mass. for example) and a number of rather vocal folks from the Open Source community (which you’ve been providing us links to) asking for the support, the demand it not really that large. It doesn’t mean that won’t change, and like I said, if there is enough demand, it’s hard to believe someone wouldn’t build it (maybe MS, maybe someone else).

    If somebody was going to build in that support, they would need to look at the following factors:

    1. How many customers are asking for the support?

    2. Are folks going to be upset when some functionality can’t be saved? Is that a non-starter?

    3. Even if users can deal with the lost functionality, would you still need to throttle the user interface so that the user doesn’t accidentally use features that aren’t supported by that format?

    4. How much work is it to build this support, and what priority does it get when compared to all the other features that are being requested.


  7. Eduardo says:

    You didn’t answer my question. My question was not, "If there was a demand for an Open Doc converter, would **someone** develop one. (I didn’t ask that question in part because the answer is obvious.)

    The question, rather, was would **Microsoft** include such a converter if users indicated that they wanted **Microsoft** to do so. You didn’t answer that question.

    Now you did say, "The answer to your question is the same as any hypothetical about future functionality, there is no definitive yes or no answer. As with anything it would depend largely on the customer demand." That sounded like you were going to say "Yes, we would do it, if the demand was big enough" But then you ducked away to say that **someone** would do it.

    In my experience, when someone is asked a question but answers a different one, it is almost always because they know they would be in big trouble no matter how they answered the original question. In the absence of persuasive reasons to the contrary, I will assume that is what is going on here.

  8. BrianJones says:

    I think I clearly answered your question and even added more. If you are looking for the short direct answer it’s of course "maybe". There is no definite answer to such a question.

    Is your point that you would only buy such a solution if it was developed by Microsoft and that’s why you want to know if we would build it? I’m not sure if you have the desire to have everything built by Microsoft, but as is often the case we sometimes need to rely on third parties for more specialized solutions. That’s the benefit of going with these Open XML formats. Anyone can come along and build solutions on top of them.


  9. Eduardo says:

    "maybe" That is a pretty good answer. Thank you.

  10. BrianJones says:

    If you’re interested, here’s a site that lists some of the other licenses out there (both free and non-free) that are not compatible with the GPL:


  11. Eduardo says:

    Brian, you said, "Is your point that you would only buy such a solution if it was developed by Microsoft and that’s why you want to know if we would build it?"

    No, actually I just meant the question I asked. I guess you made a reasonable guess as to why I was asking it, and addressed that, but what I wanted was an answer to the question I actually said.

    Hey, if this was Slashdot we would have flamed each other for hours, but instead we got it straighten out with only 6 messages. Not bad.

  12. BrianJones says:

    Well, I’m glad I was able to answer your question then. I was a curious why you were asking such a specific question which is why I drilled into the other details. It’s always important to understand why someone is requesting specific functionality and see if there are other solutions.

    I’m also suprised that you are satisfied with the "maybe" response given that that would be the answer for almost any hypothetical. 🙂

    Now that that’s said, do you have any questions on the actual format itself? Have you looked at the preview of the schemas yet:


  13. Ed says:

    You are deliberately confusing the issue Brian.

    Yes, the license for the CURRENT format is perpetual royalty free.

    What about FUTURE CHANGES to the format? Will you guarantee that all future changes will be at least as open as the current?

  14. Eduardo says:

    Brian, actually, I was asking because I am interested in the larger question of how Microsoft deals with open standards. "maybe" was a reasonable answer because the situation is fluid, so I can understand Microsoft has not made up its mind one way or the other on this particular aspect of the issue.

  15. Step says:

    Brian, thanks for the answer. OOo does in fact handle all of the docs I need from Office. My current frustration has been having to have my wife resend me documents saved in Office format instead of OOo. The solution I have arrived at for right now is to install OOo on my work laptop, which is of course not what I want to do (it’s already cluttered and slow enough).

    Anyways, I read through the rest of the comments and was also impressed by your restraint and honesty in answering some rather impolitely framed queries.

    I will say that I definitely wish Microsoft Office would support importing or opening OpenDoc documents, but I can’t imagine Microsoft being very willing at all to do that. Oh well, we’ll see how it all plays out. It’s good to know that you’re doing your best, and I like to see the openness that’s been coming out of Microsoft lately. 🙂

  16. BrianJones says:

    Wow, Ed, I’m definitely not trying to confuse the issue. In fact I’ve spent a bunch of time trying to dig up answers to all the questions people have been asking. It seems like no matter what information I provide somehow it doesn’t answer "the question" though… 🙂

    So you are basically asking if any new features that may come about in future versions of the application will also be covered.

    While I can’t say for sure either way on the whole licensing the future topic, I think that most people were more concerned about the licenses always working for the documents they create with the current version. The answer there is of course that they are perpetual and that any files you create are covered by that. Even if for some reason there was something added in the future that wasn’t covered (which I can’t imagine), it wouldn’t affect those files. It would only affect the use of that new feature. So if that ever does happen (which it shouldn’t), then just don’t use that new feature.

    Is what you describe something that OpenOffice does? Can you point me at other licenses that say that any future work is also covered? I can’t imagine it would be easy to license something that doesn’t even exist yet.

    Eduardo, I’m glad I was able to help out. I should have just given the direct answer but I had unfortunately assumed there was more to what you were asking. The industry is definitely fluid. Microsoft has been involved in a large number of standards, but obviously we can’t be involved in all of them.

    Step, thanks for those comments. I’m definitely trying my best to help explain what goes into the decisions we make with our designs. I think the move to default documented XML formats is really an awesome move.

    As far as the problems that come with your wife sending the files in the OpenOffice format… do they have an option you can set to use a different format as the default? We have this in Word, and I’ve seen people that will switch to RTF, HTML, or recently the XML formats for similar reasons.


  17. Scot says:


    I think it is highly comendable that Microsoft is opening its file formats to other vendors and is open enough for most buisnesses. Also I think it is great that you are opening a dialog with people outside of the microsoft beltway.

    What i do take issue with is the idea that a file format or an API for any communication could be patented. I personally will try to keep all of my documents in as open of a format as i can.

    I have yet to use OpenOffice 2.0, Koffice, Abiword, or any of the other OpenDocument capable apps but I imagine it will come down to every one else supporting a format and Microsoft holding its breath on the issue. You might be careful because if you hold your breath too long people will realize there are alot of other options that are in many cases good enough for what they do.

  18. BrianJones says:

    Hey Scot, thanks for the comments. I started this blog a couple months ago and I’ve really been enjoying the dialog.

    I understand your concerns around patents. As I said in this original post, there are often formats where the company that backs the original format isn’t clear on what parts of the IP behind the format are licensed. In our case, we’re saying all of the patents and applications are licensed in this area, so you don’t need to worry.

    As I pointed out, the OpenDocument format has IP as well that belongs to Sun. Here’s a link that provides more information on the license for the OpenDocument format:


  19. orcmid says:

    Nice job on the licensing issues. Thanks for pointing out that Sun has a patent license agreement that applies to the OOo format.

    Actually, because of the Sun reciprocity requirement (although the Sun OASIS notice is pretty muddled and mixed up with the W3C approach in an ambiguous way), I think that would be a tough pill for Microsoft to swallow in supporting OOo directly in Microsoft Office. The Microsoft royalty-free license seems more straightforward in that regard.

  20. Joce says:

    What people are objecting to is the secrecy and lock-in of Office files, not the format itself.

    Microsoft doesn’t need to restrict themselves to OpenDocument of some such file format. All they need to do is openly document their file formats – a freely downloadable file on their web site is enough. All this "licensing" and "patenting" is just as bad as keeping the whole thing secret.

    Microsoft Office should be chosen by customers because it’s the best software available, not because it’s the only thing which can read all the documents out there.

  21. BrianJones says:

    Hey Dennis (orcmid), good to see you posting again. I also got your e-mail on this subject, thanks.

    Joce, we are doing just that. The formats are fully documented and the documentation is freely available for download. We did this with the XML formats in Office 2003, and we are doing it with the new default XML formats in Office ’12’.

    I also agree with you that MS Office should be chosen because it’s the best application out there. That’s why we aren’t concerned by opening up our formats. We don’t feel like the formats are why people use Office. People will use Office because it’s the best and it continues getting better. Have you read about all the new functionality coming in Office ’12’? It’s really exciting.


  22. Eduardo says:

    Massachusetts has finalized its decision to go with the Open Doccument Format:

  23. SMC says:

    …and quit wasting so much rhetoric on trying to undermine the open-source license used by, what, about 70% of open source projects?

    The point being glossed over is that the general purpose of the GPL is to avoid someone simply "taking" an open-source work licensed under it and then rendering it effectively encumbered and no longer genuinely open by imposing additional restrictions. In essence, the GPL says "You may re-use, modify, and re-distribute this and derivative works of it at no charge, provided you agree to allow those you redistribute to the same freedoms and rights".

    As predicted, Microsoft set this up nicely to play the "victim" – "Oh, those horrible OpenSource zealots just don’t want to give credit to us for our work! Is that such an unreasonable thing to want? This PROVES that GPL-users are rabid zealot un-American commies, and everyone should just quit using their stuff and instead promote licenses we can take from without any restrictions that prevent us from proprietizing their work."

    (People who make their work available to others under the terms of the GPL just want their work to remain freely available, without third parties choking off derivative works with additional restrictions, is THAT such an unreasonable thing to want?…)

    Saw this one coming right from the beginning. This is not to say that, for example, the BSD-derived licenses are bad or that I resent Microsoft legally cannibalizing BSD-derived projects for their own use (TCP/IP stack – and when will MS support Ogg Vorbis?) since users of the BSD license don’t care whether their work is proprietized by others without contributing back. I DO resent Microsoft’s crusade to defame and kill off the most popular open-source license in use, currently, for what to ME looks like blatantly greedy reasons ("We can’t take from the the work of others without contributing back if it’s GPL’d!")

  24. So where does the GPL say no attribution? I thought that was one of the main points in the GPL: you must not remove copyright notices. And what exactly is sublicensing ip rights?

  25. Jared says:


    Do you see it even possible that MS will put OpenDoc support into Office? It seems that they would be willing to do that if they believed that their product was the best on the market, and people would choose it because of that reason. I mean, it seems that in the past, MS has support competitor’s formats before (e.g., Corel’s WordPerfect format), so why not now?

    Also, is MS planning on sticking with this format for a long period of time? That is probably one of the reasons I used WordPerfect for so long was that they _always_ kept their formats backwards compatible (ok, I liked the price of WordPerfect Office as well).

  26. Sveinung says:

    If you can not sublicense, how on earth can you them release your aplication under ANY Open Source (or, to narrow the question, Free (Speach) Software) lisence?

  27. Pete says:

    The move toward open formats will certainly help MS Office. After reading the banter it is clear that most of the discussion is really about trust. To understand this, let’s look first at motivation.

    I think everyone can agree that the move toward open formats is because of market pressure. While I think MS could provide many explanations why the move is good for the consumer (which is true), business decisions are not always in favor of the customer. If they were, we would have had open formats years ago, and folks would not have had to reverse engineer file systems, windows sharing, IE plugins, etc. That said, there are VERY good reasons for proprietary formats, aside form the obvious lock on customers. Proprietary formats let engineers control the code, which means that in the end, the source code defines the *real* format, even if the documents are slightly amiss (blueprints versus "as built" come to mind). Plus, it lets the company change the format at a moment’s notice… overnight if they like, coming out with a new piece of code that reads new formats. All of this translates into lower development cost and more market agility.

    However, as businesses and governments finally recognized that they are generating terabytes of documents with dubious long-term storage prospects, they realized that their civic duty could no longer be shirked. They could no longer archive documents in formats that were not guaranteed readable without buying a future product which may never be sold. Naturally, there can be lots of marketing to try and convince folks otherwise, but it is the clear truth — there is no market guarantee that MS *must* release a product 20 years from now that can read Office2000 formats. So… companies and governments have pressured MS into the current position — provide an open format, so that theoretically 20 years from now someone could build a reader.

    Why is all this important to the current discussion? In a word: Trust. MS was forced into the Open Formats position, which clearly is more costly and provides paths to migrate away from MS Office because large influential organizations were already breaking from the status quo. To stem the tide MS had to offer what the customers need — Open Formats. However, the customer knows that MS was forced into this position, it was not a willing marriage. Hence, all the banter and discussion on this forum asking questions about licensing, patents, future support for other formats, etc. The issue is that when consumers see a company forced to make a business decision, trust becomes the number one issue. Could MS suddenly change its mind? MS could for example, simply release the next version of Office with a new proprietary format and declare the old open format useless. Will MS cripple the format by making very small changes every 3 mo, preventing third parties from actually catching up and offering competing products (The evolution of IE comes to mind).

    So… while the discussion here is interesting, the real issue is trust. Since MS was backed into this position, how will it respond in the future if the threat abates? If MS was completely serious about Open Formats as a real business strategy, instead of a makeshift response forced upon them, Ballmer a Gates would get in front of the world, and put the trust thing to rest by declaring publicly "Microsoft will forever make Open Formats the default for MS Office Products!" *That* would help address the trust issue. Without it, companies will hedge their bets even with this new move by MS because "the future is murky". Of course, even with such bold statements there will be GPL whiners, but that’s always the case. One thing is for sure, you can never please them. MS could however please the business and government communities by making moves to restore trust.

  28. Robert Weiler says:


    Thank you for acknowledging that the Microsoft License grant is incompatible with the GPL. Unfortunately, while it may be true that many people equate the GPL with Open Source, that isn’t the issue. People are displeased with the Microsoft grant because it is incompatible with Free Software, which also happens to be an Open Source software. Richard Stallman has been harping on this distinction for years now, so I find it difficult to believe that Microsoft is surprised by it. It would be so refreshing if Microsoft would simply be forthright and state ‘we will not issue a license that is compatible with the GPL because we do not wish customers to replace our products with less expensive alternatives.’ That’s fine, it is your right to do so. And as customers, it is our right to buy products where GPL alternatives exist if that is a restriction that we can’t live with. However, please stop insulting our intelligence by pretending that this is about something other then precluding competition.

  29. Matej Cepl says:

    Just a note on the attribution. Although I am far from being follower of Richard Stallman, I think that this rant on attribution (here in the one of BSD licenses) makes a lot of sense



  30. Bob Bushman says:

    Hi Brian,

    The following section seems very clear: MS can stop granting the license when they want. At that point, anyone who already has a copy of the software I wrote that infringes the patents in question can continue to use it. Perhaps new versions could be distributed to those same people (since they already have a license). I cannot, however, continue to distribute my open source project, because only MS has the right to grant my potential user a license. That is, MS can effectively kill (or at least place in stasis) any project that gets big enough to pose a threat.

    This is at the core of every OSS license – the right to grant the same rights I have to the recipients of my software.

    What am I missing?

    "This product may incorporate intellectual property owned by Microsoft Corporation. The terms and conditions upon which Microsoft is licensing such intellectual property may be found at"

    You are not licensed to sublicense or transfer your rights.

  31. David says:

    Sorry Brian (well, actually I’m not), but how Microsoft can believe that these formats are open in any way shape or form is laughable. XML does not mean ‘open’ at all, and I would have stopped reading Alan Yates’ response immediately at Massachusetts because their definition of open does not equal XML, nor have they stated it as such. I also love Alan’s 14 page response, whereas everyone else kept their responses to the point :).

    Yes, the formats use XML (yay, at Microsoft XML == open!) but they rely on proprietary schemas that are so hideous and complex an application can only reasonably support it, 100%, by using a proprietary API. There is also no telling what binary data can be embedded in these file formats as well. At least the Open Document Format has set standards for such things. You’ve also got Office creating deliberately mangled files (already been done with MS HTML) and users who can also create their own non-standard entities with their own tags on Office. These games have been played before, and they were played fifteen or twenty years ago. Back then we had proprietary network stacks and protocols as well. How many of those are still around, and how many of the companies selling them are still around?

    It would have been very easy for Microsoft to support Open Document by simply sticking with Oasis and contributing exactly what was needed to get it working with Office. Alas, the games remain the same.

    It’s really quite funny how isolated Microsoft have been from the real world, and I really enjoyed Alan Yates’ response letter. Here in the real world, thats called ‘how not to do it’ ;-). In a procurement or tender process in any sensible, professional field or industry in the world you either meet the requirements or you are out of the running (and you do not insult your potential customer as Alan did). Since simply talking about XML does not meet that requirement, you’re out of the running within the first two sentences.

    Please pass on my congratulations to Alan. He has quite a lot to learn, as do you all :-).

  32. LDR says:

    "Joce, we are doing just that. The formats are fully documented and the documentation is freely available for download"

    If it’s fully documented and freely available for download, then why can’t GPL projects read/write the new office files, unless it’s restricted in some way as per above.

    So it’s not _really_ fully documented, since you’re saying "If you’re going to use this in a GPL program, you can’t read/use our documentation.

  33. Eduardo says:

    Here’s a killer Wikipedia entry on OpenDocument, complete with up-to-date links to relevant articles — even a comment posted on this blog!

  34. Jude Suszko says:

    I can understand Microsoft’s desire for attribution, but I’m not so sure about the sublicensing angle. If Microsoft doesn’t stand to make any money on licensing the patent(s), then what is the point of making everyone who wants to use them ask permission? The only reason I can think of is that Microsoft reserves the right to refuse permission, which could be problematic.

    I also don’t understand how the sublicensiong restriction come into play in various plausible situations.

    For example, I know I can give copies of GPL software to other people, but I don’t know if I could do this with software that uses the patent(s) we are discussing. Would I need to get Microsoft’s permission to give a copy of such software to a friend? What if I made a few changes to the code, and I wanted to share my modified version?

    Another possible difficulty involves the questions of who the license holder is, and who can be the license holder. Would an open-source project that licensed these patents have to designate a person (or some legal entity) as the license holder? If so, what happens when that person is no longer involved with project (perhaps they passed away), or the entity ceases to exist? Does the license lapse, and a new license has to be obtained to continue distributing the software? Who would have legal standing to obtain a new license if this were the case?

    The prohibition against sublicensing makes me worry about the possibility that open source projects that use these formats could find themselves suddenly lacking permission to do so at some time in the future.

  35. Brian Jones,

    I just got done watching the following video, ui

    I Hope you don’t mind that I took about a million screen shots because it contains many good ideas;)

    One of the things that I was most taken with were all the references to usability studies and improvements made based on customer requests. With regards to the document storage format, I am left with a very simple question. If the User Interface side of the house can add features based on customer requests, why can’t the document storage side of the house add a ‘save as OpenDoc’ feature.

    In the video, Julie was very careful to point out that common task, like cutting and pasting, could be done in MANY ways. This allows the customer to work in a manner that is most productive for them. With the fact the Microsoft realizes the consumer productivity in enhance by allowing many optional methods of accomplishing a task, why can’t the customer save in the OpenDoc format. I did not see Julie stating that base on usability studies customer can no longer use ctrl-x/ctrl-v to cut and paste.

    A second example, I see that I can write my document in any of about a million font. Why am I restricted in what formats I can use to save a document?

    In light of the over whelming demand of the ‘save as OpenDoc’ feature, I am left with one conclusion. Someone in Microsoft feels that there is an advantage in not providing the ‘save as OpenDoc’ feature which outweighs the advantage of including it. The whole discussion boils down to that one point.

    Now with this in mind, why is Microsoft willing to go through so much effort to prevent OpenDoc from being included as a save option?

  36. David Payne says:


    One way to understand the problem with the sub-licensing restriction is to see it from the other side.

    Pretend that I am a developer with some really great software such as the impossible "perfect" compression routine, it compresses any file to just 1k in size, even 10 meg monsters, or even a complete ISO image of a DVD 🙂

    Now I offer it to Microsoft for free, forever, and can prove that I have the right to let you have it, oh and that it really works.

    Once your lawyers and programmers had verified all that, you would accept it? Of course you would, you could distribute windows on a floppy again, or even the ENTIRE Internet 🙂

    Now if I added that no sub-licensing restriction. Now, every Microsoft customer would have to come to me before they could use YOUR software just because you were using just a little bit of mine. Would Microsoft take it? I really don’t think so. I think you would rather just pay me some money up front.

    My example is rather out there, there isn’t such a compression program, there can’t be. But, maybe now you might see the problem.

  37. Jose says:

    To Pete:

    I agree that it is about trust, but I disagree with you and believe that there is little that Microsoft can do in the short-term except to lose sizeable market share. Certainly, I don’t believe Gates and Ballmer can say very much to convince very many that see the light that instead Microsoft and closed are the light.

    "Proprietary formats let engineers control the code, which means that in the end, the source code defines the *real* format, even if the documents are slightly amiss (blueprints versus "as built" come to mind)."

    The source code defining the real format is also the case for open source. The difference is that with open source, a competiting implementation can get that much closer OR reuse key libraries so as to in effect be completely compatible. While Microsoft could release *the* API/libraries that do all of the scrambling and descrambling, I don’t trust them (ever) because:

    "That said, there are VERY good reasons for proprietary formats, aside form the obvious lock on customers. […] Plus, it lets the company change the format at a moment’s notice… overnight if they like, coming out with a new piece of code that reads new formats."

    and as well because Microsoft owns just too much. Under this scenario of us relying on Microsoft for the interface to the standard (i.e., their implentation): They own their internal good and efficient and robust and ..[let me not get carried away here, this is Microsoft I’m talking about] API implentation and they own the subpar version that is released to the public. They own and they control and keep secret all of it. Judge, jury, and executioner — no checks, no balances. This implies very clearly: No Trust. .. despite what Gates mouth may lip synch.

    [[What follows is less digestable (gotta get some sleep). Beware.]]

    Open source (not open standards) is clearly in the best interests of consumers unless there was not sufficient quality open source, i.e., if from a market perspective, the benefits of open source software were beat out by the overwhelmingly superior quality of closed products made possible presumably via the closed vendor’s "closed business" affinity to generate income and attract programmers.

    I think the move by Massachusettes is intended mainly to break the monopoly hold of Microsoft and then set a playing field that is somewhat neutral (Oasis format instead of a format developed entirely within Microsoft (the monopolist) — key here: neutral format vs format by the monopolist). A monopolist with closed source giving away their open standards is *useless* because their implementation reigns supreme and the implementation always defines the standard not the public documents [we agree completely on this last point].

    Gates can stand up and say what he will. Obviously, it will be used against him if he goes too far, but I expect he won’t go far enough to untarnish Microsoft’s reputation.. especially not so long as they remain with monopoly position.

    You see, words won’t solve the problem which is Microsoft having monopoly control. Only action can do that, and we know Gates’ feelings about giving up monopoly control [didn’t he cry and throw himself at the mercy of the court to prevent the break-up?]. Consequently, Massachusettes only course of action is to try as best as possible to give the rest of the industry a *fair* chance to *take* enough market share from the monopolist so that the customer can regain some real measure of power [monopoly: no good for customer; free market: good for customer].

    [[We are speeding downhill from here on.]]

    This move by Mass and by any others smart enough to follow at least in spirit is simply a move for the customer. It is an assertion by the customer that it is they that deliver the requirements because it is they that pay, and it is they that must look after their own well-being. It is they that must get tough when things become sufficiently askew and so little in favor of them and so much in favor of the vendor (the monopolist).

    As everyone else is saying (and as you agree), Massachusettes has some genuine concerns to want to preserve their documents beyond a few years. They’d also like all of their clients, the citizens, to be able to consume these documents even today without forcing a single vendor on them [too bad not all government bodies see this clearly]. That is their main requirement. The reasons for choosing Oasis have been explained earlier (well, as I see it). It is Microsoft’s choice if they want to continue to do business or not.

    I do know that this is a monkey wrench thrown at Microsoft, but that is business. Today and everyday from now on, just like all days past, Microsoft will take some risks. If they work out, they can potentially enjoy the rewards of monopoly control. If they don’t, they don’t.

    I don’t wish Microsoft well.

    I do respect much of the value in the GPL (especially to those that value the software the most (those that enjoyed building it and those that choose to consume it)).

    Other than I think we see eye to eye.

  38. Todd Knarr says:

    I’d like to address some of the problems I have with the Office XML license. Some of these have been noted by others.

    The "no sub-licensing" portion is a big barrier to me as a developer. Even if I can get a license for my implementation without a problem, there’s still a problem. When I go to distribute my licensed application, the license says I can’t give people who receive my program licenses. They have to go back to Microsoft to get them. That’s at the least an administrative headache for my users. There’s also a more disturbing problem: suppose Microsoft won’t grant them a license? I may have a perpetual license, but if Microsoft decides it’s no longer going to license the Office XML schemas at all then what are new users of my software to do? This, by the way, is one of the reasons the GPL requires a grant of sub-licensing rights, so that if I have the right to create and distribute the software I can pass along to recipients all the rights they’ll need to use and redistribute that software without needing to involve any third party. If I can’t do that, then I have to look long and hard at the risks I’m taking.

    The other big problem that jumps out at me is in the exceptions to the "Neccesary Claims" license. Exception (iii) seems to preclude any sort of extension to the schemas by anyone other than Microsoft. Such an extension wouldn’t be in the schema specifications Microsoft publishes, and it’d reasonably fall into the clutches of this exception. Since a document with that extension isn’t one that complies with the schema, programs that read and write it are specifically excepted from being licensed for neccesary patent claims. One of the ideas at the heart of an open format is that it can be legitimately modified and extended by people other than the original creator, and exception (iii) seems to directly prevent that. Exception (ii) is even worse. I can understand exempting enabling technologies, the license for a document format shouldn’t have to cover licensing of for example all the image formats that could conceivably be embedded in it. One of the things specifically mentioned as an enabling technology, though, is expressly "general word processing, spreadsheet or presentation features or functionality". It seems odd to me to include general word processing functionality in an exception to a license for a word processing document format. It seems very easy to me to argue that specific word-processing functionality is an enabling technology (the license says just that, after all) and thus not covered by the license. The later clarification covering use in government documents doesn’t really help, because it’s limited to software that reads the documents. Reading documents is half of it, yes, but being able to create documents to send to the government is at least as important if not more so and your license doesn’t make the same guarantee about that.

    I think a good test of the license is this: if Microsoft had to license someone else’s file format as a mandatory format in Office, and that format was only available under the same terms Microsoft is offering the Office schemas under, would Microsoft’s legal department accept the terms as-is or not?

  39. Craig Ringer says:

    Brian, thanks for taking the time to look at this. I’m sure you like worrying about licensing about as much as I do, which is not at all, so spending this time is much appreciated.

    Thanks for confirming the GPL incompatibility. If that could be put on the FAQ, that would be very helpful, since it’d save others the fuss of going through the same amount of work to determine if they can use the formats or not.

    Of course, I still disagree that this is the best choice, but it’s Microsoft’s choice not mine.

    In the end, what matters is whether Microsoft wants its formats to be usable by all developers in all segments of the market. My view is that if the format is truly open, it should be usable by all. Currently, it doesn’t appear to be. Still, so long as who can and can not use the format is both clearly established and clearly stated (eg on the FAQ), then we know where we stand – which is what I’ve been trying to get to. That gives developers, decision makers, etc the information they need to make the right choices for them.

    Before I continue, let me repeat once again that I’m a developer – I’m not a lawyer or GPL expert. So all my comments are made in that context.

    I would like to clarify my earlier comment on availability. My issue is not that the license isn’t perpetual – it is – but rather that there is as far as I can tell no guarantee that it’ll be perpetually available to new licensees. In other words, if Microsoft chose to stop offering the license, where does that leave me? I can’t sublicense, and I can’t even send users to Microsoft to get a license. I can still use the code, but can I sell it to new customers? Can I only sell it to new customers who won’t in turn develop with it or redistribute it? Feel free to substitute "sell to new customers with "give to new users" as appropriate. David Payne explained this wonderfully in an earlier comment.

    It is important to understand that the above is significant to all open source developers, as well as to the developers of commercial libraries (and possibly appliations, depending on the meaning for end users), not just to developers of GPL projects. It’s most important for GPL projects, since the GPL its self seems to prevent them from implementing the MS Office XML schema. Nonetheless, many other potential implementors will care very strongly about guaranteed availability of the license for future users – especially if they need their customers/users to be able to redistribute their code, as commercial library developers and OSS developers do.

    As for the GPL, I think it’s a sticking point because it’s probably the single most dominant OSS license – its certainly the most dominant "copyleft" license. This is particularly important because many projects can not relicense, or add exemptions, even if they want to. Unless there has been a single controlling organization that requires copyright assignments for all submissions, as the FSF does for official GNU contributions and Sun does for OO.o, a project often can’t change its license without getting approval from every contributor. That means finding them, too, which is a huge task. In some cases you need to find their estate, not them. In the main project I contribute to, Scribus, the development team can’t just add an exception to the license to permit the necessary restrictions for the MS Office XML patent license without getting the permission of everybody who had ever contributed non-trivial work. It’s not fun. Perhaps a separately downloadable plugin might get around this, but there are questions about "derivative works" that might make that impossible. It’d also, as you can probably imagine, be far from ideal for users – and after all, its the users who matter when it comes to wider use of the MS Office XML format.

    Yes, this is the fault of the projects in question and not Microsoft’s problem. Nonetheless, I think what I just described is large part of the reason for the concern many folks seem to have. It would be a good-will gesture by MS, rather than something the company can be expected to do, for them to offer the patents under a license that can be used in GPL software.

    As for OpenDocument, I find your comments on Sun’s rights to the OpenDocument format interesting. Reading the W3C royalty free license requirement was, surprisingly, not reassuring – for much the same reasons as worry me about the MS Office XML patent license, regarding sublicensing and/or perpetual availability. I also didn’t spot any specific license from Sun, though I only looked fairly quickly. This is something I’m going to want to look into further, as the project I work on already has code that supports OpenDocument.

    Speaking of Sun, given that Sun holds the copyright to OpenOffice I expect they can add the required exceptions to their license to permit them to use the current license, so long as the question about future availability is satisfied. That’s a big if, but given that, I have to question what Microsoft has to gain from any restrictions on the use of the format. Is it just control?

    There is one other question that I still think is very important – and that’s where end users stand with regards to the patent license. This is something that may be obvious to a lawyer, but I’m not one, and as a developer I need to know. Are end users subject to the patent license when they simply use applications that implement the MS Office XML formats, or does it only matter for redistribution and modification of the code? This question is particularly important because of the "clarification" for government users, as that leaves open some large questions about non-government users, and about uses other than reading the format.

    I’d like to close by saying that I find it amusing to me that both "sides" think the others’ preferred license is overly restrictive. Both are right, in a way – for MS’s purposes the GPL is unreasonably restrictive, though it achieves its users’ purpose as designed. I personally find it too restrictive for some purposes, and would probably want to use the LGPL for any original work. Similarly, the MS Office XML patent license is, I don’t doubt, ideal for MS’s purposes – but as far as I can tell doesn’t fit the needs of many OSS users. Both "sides" probably see the others’ unwillingless / inability to budge as unreasonable, too 😉

    So, despite my continued questions, thanks very much for all your time and effort on this. It’s very helpful.

  40. Craig Ringer says:

    I have a few responses to other comments made here.

    Step, Brian, OO.o does have a default save format option. Some redistributors even set it to Word ’97/2000 by default because of the issue Step described.

    To those discussing the attribution requirement, it probably doesn’t even matter without solving the much more important sublicensing / perpetual availability issue. Should they feel like it, though, MS would be very, very kind to perhaps offer an explicit attribute exception for the GPL (or for "licenses that do not permit the requirement of attribution"). It’d be purely a good-will gesture, and frankly a pretty nice one, though I really don’t know if MS would or could make it. For them it probably seems a very unreasonable restriction – it does to me too, but we’re kind of stuck with it for a lot of existing software that can’t be relicensed.

    To the comments wondering about OpenDoc in Office, it’s really a different question entirely. I imagine Microsoft would have understandable concerns about terms of the Sun license for "IP" rights on OpenDocument, esp reciprocity requirements, etc. I imagine they’d want the same sort of guarantee that I’m interested in regarding perpetual availability of any rights, too (something I need to look into with regards to OpenDocument). The oft-quoted issue with feature support, agility, and control is IMO probably red herring, though, unless MS was to try to support the format as their default – and I neither see that as likely to happen nor think it reasonable to expect it. As others have said, RTF doesn’t support all Office’s features either.

    Robert, I think you missed the point with your comment on documentation. The MS license can as it stands be used for products that can replace Office with cheaper versions, possibly even including OO.o (redist issues aside). The GPL incompatibility its self doesn’t appear to help if the goal is to prevent being undercut. I can release a zero-cost closed source product or non-GPL-licensed open-source office product compatible with the new format and with a license compatiable with its patent license if I wish. Remember, Open Source != Free Software != gratis/$0 software, and that the GPL is not all there is to Free Software. Alternately in a new product or one whose copyrights I wholely owned I could simply make an exception to the GPL for the MS license (see MySQL’s license for an example – they’ve made exceptions for PHP and OpenSSL). However, in either case, the sublicensing limitation might make supporting the format dramatically less attractive, irrespective of what license I was using, since my impression is that the right to use it can be restricted later.

    LDR, the MS Office XML format is fully documented, but there are restrictions on the license of the patents required to implement software based on the docs. As such, you might say that the format is open, but use of it seems to be less than ideally so.

    I’ll also summarise a few points I tried to make earlier, hopefully without blathering endlessly.

    Key points:

    – GPL/LGPL incompatibility is less important than the reason for that incompatibility, namely sublicensing / perpetual license availability. I’m not convinced that GPL incompatibility by its self is that big a deal. Though it’d be very frustrating, it might be worked around, and even if it can’t be it’s not the end of the world. As Brian said, it’d hardly be new or earth shattering. The potential user many are thinking of, OO.o, can most likely get around this by adding a license exception anyway. That won’t solve the sublicensing question though.

    – If the sublicensing issue can be solved, it’d be a wonderful kindness to the attribution requirement to permit GPL/LGPL software. If it can’t be, there’s no point worrying about the GPL since there are bigger things at stake.

    – "The sublicensing issue" comes down to the possibility that rights for new users might be additionally restricted or removed later, with no recourse. Arguably, that possibility makes the format not all that open at all. Presuming that the reader sees this as a problem, one solution would be to permit sublicensing under the same terms. Another might be to make the license perpetually available as an "automatic" license (ie no explicit execution required) under the same or newer terms, at the licensee’s choice.

    – A secondary, but important, question is how the patent license affects users, especially with regards to the Gov’t exception. This is doubly important because of the sublicesing question, as if users must care about the patent license, it affects all distribution of software that implements these schema, OSS and closed source, app or library.

    – Would I infringe if I don’t satisfy the requirement for "full compliance" ? How can I guarantee that my implementatation is fully compliant? What if I just want to write a text-only importer?

    Brian: "There are tons of open source licenses listed on Are people saying none of those are any good except the GPL?". Nope – but they’re saying there’s lots of existing code under it that can’t be relicensed, and they’d like to be able to use the MS formats. Also, see above.

    As for LGPL compatibility, the LGPL states:

    "10. Each time you redistribute the Library (or any work based on the Library), the recipient automatically receives a license from the original licensor to copy, distribute, link with or modify the Library subject to these terms and conditions. You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients’ exercise of the rights granted herein. You are not responsible for enforcing compliance by third parties with this License.

    "11. If, as a consequence of a court judgment or allegation of patent infringement or for any other reason (not limited to patent issues), conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not distribute the Library at all. For example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Library by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Library."

    To me, that reads as making the MS Office XML patent license incompatible with the LGPL as well. Sun can solve that – as they are the copyright holder of OpenOffice and can simply add an exemption – but other potential users may not be able to.

    Finally, let me reiterate what I said some time ago – I’m an MS customer, I buy Office because for many uses it’s much better than OO.o, and interoperability will permit me to continue doing so. That means five years down the track, too, not just now – I still have users at work who I’ve not yet moved off Office ’97. On top of that, as a developer, I want to know that I can build something based on these schema and be guaranteed the continued ability to distribute my work. I’d prefer not to have to worry about license compatibility, but care much less about it than about future (re)distribution.

    Thankyou for enduring my endless blather. Alas, getting to the point and writing concisely are not my strong points. I’m sorry for all the time this is taking for you, as I know it’s much nicer to be working on "real" development work. I do think this is important though, for more than just the GPL/LGPL interest group, or OO.o users, but rather for all developers (or at least library developers) who want to use your schema. It’s also important with regards to the openness of the format, and government acceptance of it. It’s more important to have the situation clearly established than it is to attempt to change it, though, and I think we’re still a little way from clearly understanding everything that’s involved here. Alas.

  41. Eduardo says:

    Craig: I am pretty sure that Sun doesn’t have a copyright on OpenOffice. OO is open source, but StarOffice, which is based on it, has more code that Sun wrote, so maybe that is what you are thinking of.

    Perpetual licensing: a key problem here is that the present MS XML may have a relatively free license, but what is to stop Microsoft from changing the license for its next version?

    Remember how Microsoft swore on a stack of bibles that they would never extend Kerberos, and then one day, without any warning, they did it? Or how about how Microsoft signed a contract with Sun to produce a cross-platform version of Java, and the purposely produced one that ran only on Windows? That being the case, it seems reasonable to fear that it might pull some sort of dirty stunt with its version of XML.

    Brian, would you say that Microsoft acted in a trustworthy manner in the Kerberos and Java cases?

  42. Eduardo says:

    Three of news stories on the MA decision. The first seems to be saying that MA desktops are going to keep Office, but add some software that would all it to save in Open Doc format. The story also has,1895,1863066,00.asp

  43. Craig Ringer says:

    Eduardo, I don’t agree. Here’s the JCA, the copyright assignment form that contributors must sign in order to get code included in

    … and here’s their licensing FAQ:

    Remember that Sun used to dual license OO.o under the SISSL as well as the GPL. Without full rights to the code, they couldn’t do that. They’ve stopped doing that now, but could still choose to use whatever license they felt like in future. What they can’t do is revoke the existing GPL license on the existing revision of the codebase. Because the license permits sublicensing and is perpetual, they can’t revoke rights they’ve already given, they just don’t have to release new code under the same terms.

    On the matter of perpetual licensing, I need to point out, as Brian did, that the current license is perpetual. The question is whether new licensees can in future be guaranteed the ability to get it under the original terms, or at all. There’s also the matter of what to expect in terms of licensing for new versions and enhancements to the format.

    As for the incidents you mentioned, I’m not really sure it’s helpful to get into that stuff here and now. I don’t see how they’re Brian’s problem, anyway.

  44. colin says:

    Can you explain the <b>reasoning</b> behind wanting attribution (beyond a copyright notice)?

    It doesn’t gain you any financial incentive. If you tell me it’s a marketing ploy then my belly may need surgery after it’s finished laughing, just read technorati comments to see how effective it is.

    I’m not normally a cynic, but your company’s appalling ethical record means that you are subject to extra scrutiny. Now as far as I can tell, the only reason attribution is a license condition is to introduce incompatibilities. You say it’s not unreasonable, but don’t say why. I think you should explain.

  45. David Farning says:

    >>As for the incidents you mentioned, I’m not really sure it’s helpful to get into that stuff here and now. I don’t see how they’re Brian’s problem, anyway.<<


    With regard to the incidents mentioned by Eduardo. They are very much at issue . I agree that Brian did not cause them. Yet, when he stands up and up and says trust us, Microsoft’s past actions come into play.

    We have a new saying in Wisconsin, "Fool me once… [pause] … shame on…[pause] Shame on you… [pause] If fooled, you can’t get fooled again."

    The burden of earning trust is on Microsoft.

  46. Eduardo says:

    Craig, thanks for the information on the OO license.

    It seems to me that the issue of trust as to what will happen with future licenses is there with both Sun and Microsoft. Because of the past behavior of both companies, plus what I take to be their present and future strategies, I am much more trusting of Sun than Microsoft.

    Besides that, OpenDoc is truly open, which means that if for some reason Sun closes OO, it can still be implimented in substitute open software, as it in fact already is. On the other hand, with Microsoft XML, you are entirely at Microsoft’s mercy.

  47. Eduardo says:

    Gary Edwards is a member of the technical committee that developed the Open Document standard. Check out his defense of what MA is doing:

  48. BrianJones says:

    Thanks for all the comments everyone. There are way to many to reply to every one, so instead I’ve just created a seperate post that tries to address the main issues folks are bringing up:

    I’ve also closed the comments for this thread since I won’t be able to keep up with it anymore. I still definitely want to get your feedback so please post comments on the new post instead. Thanks!


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