Follow-up on comments from the royalty-free license discussion

This continues to be a really great discussion. I think we’re really starting to get somewhere. There were so many comments, I couldn’t reply to all, and I figured I would break this out into a new post. Let’s dig into a couple of the comments from the previous post since there were some really good points raised:

1. The Microsoft Office Open XML format license is perpetual and will continue in future versions.

A few people raised concerns around Microsoft somehow being able to change the license or the formats no longer being accessible. The license actually is perpetual. Take a look, its right here:

I’d also like to respond to an issue raised by Pete:

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.

Pete, we definitely haven’t been backed into this position. We’ve been moving in this direction for a long time now. We’ve had accessible formats for a long time (RTF, HTML, etc.). The XML formats started with Excel in Office XP (which development started back in 1999). As far as publicly saying this is the direction we are going, we’ve done just that. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to pay as much attention to that, but it’s true. Check out this letter to the European Union that Steven Sinofsky submitted over a year ago: If you haven’t read that yet you should check it out. It clearly addresses a number of concerns I’ve heard folks raise. We are moving to represent all document information in XML and to fully document it.

2. The OpenDocument format has IP and needs to be licensed from Sun.

Dennis points out the following in his comment:

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.

It is true that there is a license behind the OpenDocument format that no one has really talked about. This link says it all: Have many folks explored what is behind this license and how compatible it is with existing licenses including the GPL? IBM also seems to be pushing Open Document as part of an pattern it has followed in which they use the open source community to drive its corporate agenda. What is IBM’s position on IP rights?

[10-06-2005: since my original posting the content on the OASIS site has been updated to provide what looks to be a more clear covenant.]

3. The PDF format belongs to Adobe: how is it licensed?

The Massachusetts decision said they were backing OpenDocument and PDF. Both of which formats have IP and licensing issues that belong to an individual corporation (Sun and Adobe). I haven’t found the license for PDF but it should be out there. Is the entire format licensed or only parts of it? I believe they have a patent note. Has anyone looked at it? If anyone has more information on that, it would be great to see. Please post in the comments. If you do find the PDF license, it would be great to hear which you would rather use, the Adobe license or the Microsoft license.

4. GPL has a number of compatibility issues.

SMC had a rather fun post too. Here’s a clip from what he had to say:

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.”

I’m not sure who he is quoting, but I’ll address it anyway :-) I don’t see how this can be viewed as us playing “victim.” I never even brought up the GPL issue until I got a ton a comments demanding an answer to the question. We designed the license as simply and straightforward as we could. We wanted to maintain our rights to our IP, while at the same time allowing everyone else to use it. We just wanted to keep our rights, and that’s what the license is doing. It’s saying that it’s ours, but we provide you with a contract that allows you to freely use it.

There are tons of licenses out there that aren’t compatible with the GPL. Here’s a link to the ones they thought were most interesting to call out: It is interesting for example to see that Apache’s license, the original BSD license, the Mozilla public license, the Netscape public license, the SUN public license, the PHP public license are all listed on the GNU site as Non-GPL compatible.


Comments (48)

  1. Ralph says:


    One of the problems is that Microsoft does not make the Microsoft XML schemas readily available. I visited the download page at:

    The schema is only available if you are using Windows 2000 SP3 or later or XP. I do use Windows 2000, but because of how Microsoft cripples Windows 2000 in SP2 or later, I am stuck at SP1. I never expect to run Windows XP, because it does not meet reasonable standards of reliability due to activation. So, I would say your spec is not readily available.

    You ask where to see the Adobe pdf spec. The place I would start is:

    There are other versions of the spec available at:

    I am not crazy about pdf files, but at least Adobe truly makes the spec available and allows alternate programs to read and write pdf files. Their only real restriction is that you can’t call the program a pdf writer unless it writes files compatable with other pdf programs. That is why there are hundreds of programs that write pdf files(according to Adobe during testimony in Massachusetts recently. I would like to look at the schemas, but I suspect that between the schema and the way your license is worded, the alternate implementations will be very limited.

    For example, I have two ideas for products that would manipulate Microsoft XML files in ways that users would appreciate. I can’t tell if either would be allowed.

  2. Todd Knarr says:

    On point #1, it still doesn’t address the issue. Certainly a license, once obtained, is perpetual. But the license itself also explicitly blocks me as a licensee from passing on that license along with my software. And nowhere does Microsoft guarantee that they’ll perpetually grant new licenses to people who don’t already hold them. This combination leads me to think, and one of the things I have to think is that nobody retains the ability to stop issuing licenses like that unless they feel they’ll want to use that ability in the future. This is why the GPL has section 6 in it, to guarantee that software distributed under the GPL continues to be distributable under the GPL even if the original creator decides to change his mind later. The Microsoft license explicitly leaves that loophole open, and given Microsoft’s past record when dealing with partners and standards I think it’s understandable that a lot of people aren’t comfortable without a guarantee in writing that not only will existing licenses be perpetual but that new licenses will be perpetually granted. If Microsoft intends to perpetually and unconditionally grant new licenses, then language similar to GPL section 6 would resolve the issue nicely. If Microsoft doesn’t so intend, well, the problem for developers looking to add Office XML support to applications has already been described.

    I think I have to ask my earlier question again: would Microsoft license a file format specification from, say, IBM under terms identical to the Office 2003 XML Reference Schema Patent License?

  3. orcmid says:

    I have to smile. Every time I open up the Acrobat Reader by double-clicking on a PDF document, what do I get to look at first? A notice that lists 51, count ’em, 51 patent numbers and 4 design patents, and a notice that there are patents pending [;<).

    If you call up the About … box, it gets more interesting. Look at all of the licenses and arrangements and permissions that they credit. Some interesting names in there, too.

    It’s also apparently simple reality that, so far, Adobe has played nice about people using the published format. That hasn’t kept them from being possessive of TIFF (which I and many others made contributions to at one time or another).

    Of course, using a format and stumbling over a patent claim are very different things, something I find that the Microsoft licenses on the Open XML formats are pretty clear about..

  4. orcmid says:

    Comment to Ralph:

    I saw that odd statement about system requirements too.

    I think the problem is that some of the material was packaged in a license-wrapper. But the draft Office 12 ones are offered in two forms (an .exe that self-extracts a .chm, apparently) and a Zip file that has only XML and HTML inside. I would go get that one. Or is that still a barrier?

  5. orcmid says:

    Questions to Todd:

    I’m not sure what you mean. It is true that there is no sublicense on the copyright notice. But the statement at seems pretty clear and easy for anyone else to apply.

    The page linked above specifies the notice that must be provided. If it is on your software and documentation, it is certainly something someone else could honor and perpetuate. But they too are taking out the license from Microsoft, not from you.

    The patent license is described at and of course, it doesn’t permit sublicensing either (I have never seen one that did). But it requires you to include a notice that lets anyone else find the license and use it themselves, again directly from Microsoft.

    This strikes me as a pretty low-paperwork arrangement. Is this what you are refering to or do you see some other hindrance.

    For me, with my open-source projects, I want a way to let people downstream know that some of the code is covered by potential patent claims and they need to be careful in repurposing that code (lest the essential claims provision be voided). That’s a lot better than not letting them know, and of course there may still be patent claims from parties-unknown that we are not protected from at all. So the MS situation is no worse than infringing a patent we don’t know about and potentially a lot cleaner than that.

    Am I missing something in what you find objectionable?

  6. orcmid says:

    More for Ralph:

    I looked more carefully at everything that I downloaded and even the .exe files are actually self-extractors that WinZip will open directly. Usually there’s just a .chm or a .doc inside.

    I think the restriction on W2K SP3 and later is simply boilerplate. Those are the system requirements for Office 2003. I haven’t found anything in the spec. package that actually requires that.

    And the Open XML Format of Office 12 is going to be supported all the way back to Office 2000 with updates, so I think you’re covered, don’t you?

  7. B. Moore says:

    OK folks here is the meat of the situation. Mass. Says [We want ALL people in our state who use OUR services to be able to communicate with US.] To do that everyone has to be using the same software. A government agency CANNOT force an individual to go out and spend $300-$500 to buy MS office just to conduct business with them. So the State asked corporation’s and individuals for input on how to best serve the public interest. And the answer was to adopt a format that allows all people not just the ones who can afford MS office to be able to conduct business with them. I use Linux and I use MS. I cannot afford to pay the price MS ask’s at the register for office so I use Openoffice on the windows machine. Since the MSXML license is incompatible for the gpl then that would have effectively put me out of being able to conduct business with the state of Mass.

    If MS was truly interested in allowing people the oportunity to access the state services then MS would allow anyone to make and sublicense there work so that people who dont have the financial means to purchase MS software can still compete. other wise the impoversished people are like ususal being shit on by the ones with the money and laughed at by same.

    So in closing I hope that you look at it as a means of allowing access to the people of lesser means rather than complaining or bitching.

  8. Jiri Baum says:


    you write "We designed the license as simply and straightforward as we could."

    The license is indeed short, but it seems far from straightforward. Within its few paragraphs, it manages quite a few ambiguities and other infelicities…

    For instance, it allows selling but forbids transfer of rights. Now, selling software usually involves transfer of rights (because, otherwise, what are you buying?), so these two clauses seem to contradict each other. Two could probably argue about which clause takes precedence, and at $2/minute each that argument would get expensive quickly.

    As another example, speaking of lawyers, they seem to tend to interpret examples as being restricting – if you mention one thing as an example, it automatically excludes others. Now, the license mentions reading government documents. Does that exclude writing them? Does that exclude non-government documents? Does it cover just public records?

    For that matter, does the mention of import exclude export?

    There are others, and more qualified eyes than mine can find the more subtle problems that are hidden from me (IANAL). However, even just the above two would probably be killers for any implementation, proprietary or Open Source.


  9. ulicar says:

    I have asked once developers of a certain PDF viewer why is there so small number of viewers compared to generators, and they replied with “It is easy to make Adobe PDF viewer compatible PDF document because they will render the PDF standard as they should, but when creating the document, they add tags that are not in the standard and are not published.”

    If you are blind, you will not see that Microsoft with this strategy is doing exactly the same thing. They will allow you to create the compliant documents, but they will not allow you to view the document created using MS Office because *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.* Well, we can imagine this happening and we have seen this from Microsoft over and over again (RTF/MS HTML blackberry, blueberry or whatever the name was… need more?) What is the point then? The point is "They will allow you to create the compliant documents, but they will not allow you to view the document created using MS Office" so you will need MS office again. They are doing this with their own product. Old office cannot open new office documents, so you need to upgrade. Economists call this "continuous stream of income" if I am not mistaken.

    So, to quote Kayser Soze "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he did not exist " or in this case “convincing the world that the royalty-free licenses for the Microsoft Office Open XML formats is actually free and open”. If you buy it, it will cost you arm and leg. See you in two years.

    I am user of MS Office and I will continue to use it and upgrade often, because it is currently the best one money can buy, far better then OO, or SO, but don’t piss on my head and tell me that is raining. People are not stupid. Don’t try to use half-trues as an argument, pls. If you have to resort to that, then it is better to shut the hell up.

  10. Todd Knarr says:

    The problem, orcmid, is that the first document you gave a link to only covers distribution of the specification, not distribution of implementations of the specifications. To use an implementation, you need a license for the patents. As the software creator I can’t give you that license, since my license prohibits sub-licensing or transferring my license. Microsoft can’t take away my license, but what happens if they discontinue the XML license entirely and grant <i>nobody</i> a new license on the needed patents? If they stop granting the license entirely, then the legal notice on the spec itself won’t grant the patent license. I see nothing in the patent license itself that guarantees that they’ll continue to grant those rights in the future, and therein lies the loophole.

    Note that the same thing could happen to GPL’d software, if it weren’t for section 6. As I noted, that was the motivation for section 6.

  11. Ralph says:

    To orcmid:

    I think that may be good news, but I need a little more information. You say you get a .exe file that is just a self extracting zip. That would be fine. I can handle that. But, all I seem to get is a .msi file, which I don’t want. I do have 2 Windows 2000 machines left for legacy apps, but I should have said that I run Linux as my main desktop. I don’t know what to do with a .msi file. Is there another download page than the one I mentioned above?

    Good day,


  12. Ralph says:

    To orcmid:

    If you don’t want to see that startup notice, don’t use Adobe PDF reader. I have not used it in years on Windows or Linux, because I don’t believe their license is reasonable. On Windows, I use Ghostview and on Linux I use a variety of programs that work fine, but mostly evince.

    Good day,


  13. Christian says:

    "A few people raised concerns around Microsoft somehow being able to change the license or the formats no longer being accessible. The license actually is perpetual."

    Congratulations, you have succeeded in missing the point, yet again.

    Take this example situation :

    Bob gets a licence from Microsoft for MSXML.

    Bob makes MSXML documents.

    Jane tries to get a licence for MSXML, but can’t, because the licence offer has been removed / has been changed and no longer suitable / whatever.

    Now, Jane can’t read Bob’s MSXML documents legally, even if Jane has _exactly the same software used by Bob to make the documents_.

    That is why it is critical that sublicencing under the same terms be available – that way, Jane can get a licence to read the documents from Bob and / or the person who made the MSXML document producing software.


    echo "" >> /etc/hosts

  14. tim says:

    The real problem here is not the formats itself but it’s the behavior of MS. Nobody has answered the question "why is MS having a knipshin fit over this"? Well Brian I am asking the question. Why are you guys so freaked out about standardizing on another format? While you are answering that also answer why virtually every single public pronouncement by MS has been full of outright lies.

    MS has repeatedly tried to tell people that this is about MS standardising on open source, or OO, or claiming that it’s not possible for MS to save documents in this format.

    Brian, why should anybody believe anything you say. You work for MS, and MS employees lie (a lot!). Maybe you are an honest guy but you don’t work for an honest company and that means people don’t really take you on your word.

    In the end it’s all about trust isn’t it? People don’t trust you and if you were to be honest with yourself and us you would not blame them.

  15. Gotan says:

    The mein problem is Microsoft and its behaviour in the past: they used the closed formats of their office suite (mainly MS-Word) to lock any competition out and at the same time lock their users in. They really used any evil trick in the book, especially making the format a moving target even going so far that compatibility between different versions of MS-Word is broken.

    Now i ask you: why should anyone trust Microsoft not to pull something like that again with their brandnew format? If there’s any loophole left i’m sure Microsoft would use it.

    Sure, that may sound like "anti-Microsoftism" but it’s really something Microsoft brought upon itself with their "Anti-Userism".

    If MS wants they can create and maintain a proper interface to an existing Open Document standard. Microsoft should stop interpreting "compatibility" as "compatible to itself" and connect to something outside the Microsoft Universe. There’s really no need to create their own new "open" standard and encumber it with their own license.

    Sorry, i really don’t trust Microsoft, they don’t deserve it.

  16. orcmid says:

    To Christian:

    I don’t think you will ever get a sublicensing agreement on a patent license that is predicated on essential/necessary claims. Check out the Sun license for the Open Office format and see where there is sublicensing. I don’t see it.

    Now, I do think that we are worrying about too many things that haven’t happened (even in Microsoft past behavior, which was about licensing deals with OEMs, not IP license handling).

    The notice that you are required to put in code that relies on the Microsoft royalty-free license includes a link to that license that anyone can obtain. That’s how the license is passed down. You can be distrustful all you want, and welcome to it, but I can’t imagine anyone making a better deal. (I can’t find the actual offer from IBM anywhere, with regard to their licenses for Linux, only press releases. If someone can find out where they have license statements, I’d like to read them.)

    Here’s an example of a harder case. The OASIS Standard (their term) for SAML, the Security Assertion Markup Language, has a mandatory licensing requirement based on patent claims of RSA Security. For you to develop SAML protocol software that involves any RSA Security essential claims, you must have a written agreement with RSA. And you basically cannot offer the source code to anyone who hasn’t entered into such an agreement. Now *that’s* incompatible with the Open Source Definition for all recognized Open-Source licenses. I had thought to use SAML for an open-source community project, and now I won’t be doing that.

  17. orcmid says:

    To Ralph:

    Oh, you’re right. The Office 2003 Reference Schemas are in .msi files.

    The downloads for newer information, including the preview Office 12 material, is all in .exe and .zip format.

    I would go here,

    and here,

    and that should be plenty for study if you don’t have Office 2003 installed to experiment with the current formats.

  18. Craig Ringer says:

    Brian, you raise some good points, especially about the licensing of the other open formats on offer. I think these do need to be examined in more detail. Lots more.

    Specifically on the MS patent license, though, the issue is not whether or not it is perpetual. I know it is, as do the other commenters by the looks. The question is whether it will be available in future to new licensees under the same or compatible terms, either by sublicensing or a guarantee of availability.

    I and several others (all of whom did it more clearly and generally better) explained why this is different to a perpetual license, and why it is important to all potential users, in replies to your previous entry on this topic.

    As I said before:

    – Yes, lots of licenses are GPL incompatible. It’d be nice if this one wasn’t, but GPL compatibility isn’t the issue as much as the perpetual ___AVAILABILITY___ of the license to __NEW__ __LICENSEES__. GPL incompatibility is a real pain, but not the end of the world. Microsoft could, however, make a strong gesture of their intent to support all possible users of their formats by making it GPL compatible.

    – The other open format patent licenses do need examination. We’re having a good conversation about this one now. What we learn in this can be used to learn more about the others. Let’s stick to the MS Office XML patent license for now. You said before, Brian, that you’d cover possible use of other formats in a separate entry.

    – (Bought up earlier, not addressed yet): What does the language about government users mean for non-government users, and for government users doing more than reading documents? I explained in more detail in previous posts.

    – (bought up earlier, not addressed yet): What does "fully compliant" mean, especially in the context of a program for which only partial compliance even makes sense (image extractor, text filter, generator-only app, etc). Does an app that is such a partially compliant implementation qualify for the patent license? I explained in more detail in previous posts.

    Replies to a few other posters:

    First, let me say, it’d be really nice if we could all keep the politics out of this. Really. It doesn’t help anyone.

    orcmid, the page you linked to (the required legal notice on MSDN) links to a *separate* patent license. There is no guarantee that this patent license will continue to be available, or will continue to have terms that are appropriate for the use the developer originally relied on. Sublicensing is not necessary, but if not offered then in my view a statement that the license will *always* be available under the same, or less restrictive, terms is going to be important. Again, others have repeatedly explained why. Todd Knarr’s is really clear about it.

    Remember that it doesn’t have to be removal of the license. For one thing, you can’t guarantee your users/customers the license if you don’t have a guarantee of its availability from Microsoft, even if you with all your heart believe that it will always be there. Additionally, the license doesn’t have to be removed, a few changes in the terms can make it as good as gone for some subsets of users. What if the terms were changed to disallow extensions to the standard, even trivially, and your company built and sold a middleware solution based on embedded markup in the documents? You could still use it, but could you still sell it? Could you still sell it to solutions providers who want to tweak and resell it?

    – Mr Moore, I think you’re confusing a few issues into one here. The first is GPL compatibility. Well:

    (a) OO.o is LGPL not GPL; and

    (b) While the MS Office XML patent licence appears LGPL-incompatible, Sun can just add an exception permitting the use of the code with the MS Office XML patents since they own the full rights to all the code; but

    (d) that still doesn’t ensure their users, and developers who want to extend their software, will be able to get the rights to use the MS Office XML formats in future.

    Anyway, I think that’s a much broader matter than the patent license. The patent license says nothing about specific licenses, costs, programs, organizations, etc. I’m not sure it’s too useful to go into the politics of the MA decision here and now.

    I’m very, VERY interested in what the rules are about OpenDocument. I haven’t found much information yet, in particular I haven’t found any guarantee of perpetual availability for any rights Sun may hold on it. That bothers me just as much as the identical issue with the MS Office XML patent license, and bears investigation. That doesn’t make me, or by the looks many others here, any less bothered about those issues in the MS Office XML patent license either.

    orcmid, ulicar: As for PDF, the PDF reference its self, in section 1.5 ("Intellectual Property") states:

    "This limited right to use the copyrighted list of data structures and operators does not include the right to copy this book, other copyrighted material from Adobe,

    or the software in any of Adobe’s products that use the Portable Document Format, in whole or in part, nor does it include the right to use any Adobe patents, except as may be permitted by an official Adobe Patent Clarification Notice (see the Bibliography)."

    The usage rights given aren’t really all that limited. I won’t quote that section in full, please see the reference at:

    That clarification can be found here:

    It lists specific patent numbers. In that regard I’m happier with the MS Office XML patent license. On the other hand, it appears to be (I’m not a lawyer) an automatic, universal license grant. There’s no restriction on transfer or sublicense (since it doesn’t seem to be granting a license specific to an individual), there’s no explicit language that there is a specific license that must be executed between a customer and Adobe, etc. Subject to confirmation by someone who knows what they’re talking about legally, that’d do me quite fine to have something like that for the Microsoft Office XML patent license. Why? Because it looks to me like being able to prove that Adobe once offered that grant would be sufficient to protect me, and any users/customers of mine, forever, even if Adobe stopped publicising that grant.

    It does have similar language on compliance, but it doesn’t say the software must be "fully" compliant like the MS Office XML patent license does.

    I hope I’ve finally managed to get the perptual != perpetually available issue through. I think it’s really important, and want to find out about it for OpenDocument too.

  19. .za says:

    You thought Massachussetts was bad?

    Try 330000 PCs switching to open source!

    Keep Ballmer away from the chairs 😉

  20. ulicar says:

    @Craig Ringer

    You are missing the point.

    When I mentioned PDF document I was trying to tell you something else. The point is: It is easy to create generators, but not viewers.

    MS viewer for the MS XML Office document will be able to render standard based MS XML Office document, while let’s say Open Office viewer for the MS XML Office document will not be able to render NON-STANDARD MS XML Office document created by MS Word/Excel…. Because *MS WILL AS THEY ALWAYS DID* include tags that are not in the standard, that you cannot get your’s hands on, that you cannot use and that will simply put, make Open Office useless in regard to the MS XML Office document. Is it clear now?

    That is what Adobe does every year, just as soon as somebody makes a decent viewer, they change PDF so that Acrobat Viewer can render it, while other viewers cannot. Hence, you have on your machine Adobe Acrobat Reader, and not GSview for example. That will happen to the MS XML Office standard. I have $100 that say I am right :)

    Again, I love my MS Office, but please… MS Office is there because they were better then WordPerfect, pure and simple. MS Can create great products that will take and keep the market share, without resorting to this sort of tactics. But if they try to push further, then they might get what every bully deserves, and the other MS is doing exactly that.

    Put OASIS renderer/generator in the office and that is it. MS will win without all this crap that they are trying to sell us. It is quite obvious that NO ONE IN THE WORLD IS BUYING MS ARGUMENT except their own PR machine.


  21. Eduardo says:

    One problem with Microsofts perpetual license is that it is only for the present version of Office XML.

    In a few years Microsoft will come out with a new version, call it Office XML 2.0. It will have some different technology. For instance, the binary scheme in the original version will likely have been reverse engineered, so Office XML 2.0 will have a new binary scheme, and maybe encryption. The result will be that a computer running Office XML will not be able to read or write files produced by Office XML 2.0

    Just as XP has a different license than W2000, so Office XML 2.0 will have its own license. The terms might be the same, or they might be more open, or less open. The latter case is the biggest worry. Microsoft has pulled lots of dirty tricks on its users before, so perhaps it will do so again, and this would be one way to do it — suck users in with a semi-open version of XML, and then once they are in switch to a closed one. Rather like they did with Kerberos.

    Now it is possible in theory that OASIS would do something like this with the next version of the Open Doccument Format, but it is extremely unlikely. With Microsoft, however, it is quite possible.

    Oh, and one more point. The fact that Microsoft has promised something on paper means nothing. They signed a contract with Sun for java, and then violated it, and there are lots of other cases where it has put something in writing, and then gone ahead and done something else.

    So Brian, don’t tell us, "Look, this is what the FAQ says, this is what the license says," because people have learned through hard experience that they can’t trust Microsoft, even when it puts something in writing.

  22. Craig Ringer says:

    ulicar: That’s a valid point. I’m not sure there’s a grand conspiracy going on with PDF as much as Adobe’s massively greater resources. It doens’t hurt that they have the jump on all other implementors by virtue of controlling the standard, though, or that they can simply update the standard to reflect what they’ve achieved in their latest implementation.

    There _are_ a few shady areas in PDF. The "enable Adobe Reader’s limited editing mode / annotation" magic seems to be one of them as far as I can tell. I haven’t looked into this directly and would need to speak to others to get details.

    Mostly, though, I think it’s just a case of a big, complex standard that’s really hard to implement completely. There are whole *classes* of information that free viewers are only starting to handle now, even though they’ve been around since PDF 1.3 or earlier. Embedded colour profiles, forms, JavaScript support, etc etc etc.

    Most advanced PDF tools, such as Enfocus PitStop, seem to build on top of Adobe’s PDF libraries or on top of Acrobat Pro. The complexity of the standard is likely to be a large part of why.

    The MS Office XML format will probably be the same, ie protected more than anything by its complexity and by Microsoft’s control of it. That’s part of why I don’t understand why MS isn’t giving a fully open patent grant. They control the format, and they’ll always have the most complete, up-to-date and accurate implementation. What more do they need? How can a flat patent grant, or a more flexible license, hurt them – especially when the current one is so close anyway?

    Again, the MS Office XML format will also have some shady corners and binary magic, as you alluded to. Such things will make other viewers/editors less complete than the MS ones. I don’t agree that that makes them useless, any more than GSView is useless because it doens’t support JavaScript or PDF forms. The vast majority of PDF documents neither have, nor need, those features – and I think the same will be true of MS Office XML.

    I can only wonder if the worry is that, like PDF, most users only use a tiny subset of the available features, and would be happy with much less complete, lower cost implementations. If so, I’m not convinced that’ll be a real problem. I’ve been using the wonderful GhostScript tool to make and process PDF for years, but still do most PDF production at work with Adobe Acrobat. Why? Because you do want those extras just often enough, and because for a business it’s often worth paying more for the "authoriative" version. I mostly use GhostScript to handle jobs that Acrobat can’t cope with, or do tasks it lacks the required features for. Business has hardly dried up for Adobe, despite many free and low cost alternative PDF processors and generators, more than a few built-in to applications. I suspect much of the business of the lower-cost competitors is with people who would never buy more expensive the Adobe product even if there were no alternative products to choose.

    I would expect the same to be true for MS – lots of use of their libraries and APIs to handle the formats, them retaining the dominant and most complete implementation, and people preferring the MS version to the alternatives even with its greater cost.

    I know I would. For work, I’d continue to use for users with very basic needs for whom the AU$260 per seat for MS Office Basic (OEM) is excessive, and I’d continue to buy MS Office for those who needed more.

    Anyway, I’m not going to speculate any more on Microsoft’s strategy or the complexities behind the market here. I think I’ve made my point.

  23. B. Moore says:

    Microsoft has more money in cash than most countries now. Why cant they just play nice and no be so greedy. It seems like they won’t be happy until they have every last penny in the world for themselves. It’s time to share the wealth with the masses and not be so greedy.

  24. Chris_Pratley says:

    Geez Brian. I think Eduardo is showing his hand when he said "people have learned through hard experience that they can’t trust Microsoft, even when it puts something in writing.". Basically, he’s echoing what many comment writers here are thinking – they are just here to argue with you and aren’t interested in the outcome since as he said there is *nothing* you or me or MS can say or write that will satisfy them.

    There are clearly other more open-minded people reading this blog. Why not post about what our motivations are for doing a perpetually available license and open format? Once people can see why it is in our own self-interest to do this they might be able to make more sense of it and understand why the follow-on improvements also have to be covered by the license rather than assuming we are doing this because we were "forced" to or some other nonsense…

  25. Todd Knarr says:

    Chris_Prately: Eduardo is being a bit blunt about it, but he does have a point. After all, see Microsoft’s handling of the Kerberos standard as the most recent example. That aside, there are a few other things that frankly I haven’t seen Brian address and, like you, I’d like to see addressed:

    a) The license *isn’t* perpetually available, or at least it doesn’t say it is. Licenses once issued are perpetual, yes, but nothing in writing says the license will be available to new licensees forever. This is especially of concern since users will apparently need the license to use any patents in an implementation, and the license explicitly blocks any ways of obtaining the needed license except from Microsoft. Microsoft themselves have direct experience with a situation where their users needed patent licenses but Microsoft couldn’t provide them, so the company certainly can’t plead ignorance of the consequences here.

    b) The license doesn’t say it’s automatically going to cover extensions. In fact, it seems to say exactly the opposite. It may not even cover what’s already there, since for example "general word processing… features and functionality" are specifically excluded from what’s covered under the patent license.

    c) The clarification regarding use for government documents restricts itself only to *reading* those documents. It makes no mention of being able to create documents. This is a concern since citizens are going to have to create documents to send to government agencies. Microsoft obviously put some thought into the clarification, so the limitation does stand out a bit.

    d) People are concerned that, because of things like the above that constitute a door that Microsoft seems to have reserved the right to close at any time, the Office XML "standard" may not be truly open at all. It appears open, but it can be closed off at any time. Just as, for example, Microsoft tried to use the open Kerberos standard as an enticement but then closed it off with a mandatory Microsoft-proprietary extension that rendered all non-Microsoft clients unable to authenticate against a Microsoft server, and then ostensibly made the specifications for the extensions open, but hedged obtaining them with license conditions that would prevent the majority of Kerberos client implementations (including the Kerberos reference implementation itself) from actually implementing the extensions. Given the first two points, what concrete reasons has Microsoft given for the rest of us to believe that it won’t behave the way it previously has when it comes to open standards?

    I don’t see these points as hard to address. For example, point A could be addressed easily by either making a written commitment in the license to it being perpetually available to new licensees, or actually making the license grant self-executing in a manner similar to the GPL Section 6. Assuming that Microsoft really does intend the license to be perpetually available, committing to that in writing shouldn’t be that onerous a thing.

  26. Craig Ringer says:

    Mr Moore: I have two words for you: "Fiduciary duty." That often translates to "Shareholder lawsuit". Most publically owned companies can’t "play nice" even if they want to, unless they set themselves up extremely carefully when they went public. There are whole diciplines of study in this area, and it’s not really useful to go into here. Suffice it to say that, alas, it’s not that simple.

    Chris_Pratley: It’s exactly that self interest that I’m hoping will win out. It’s useless to say "but you should make these formats perpetually available and address the other issues, it’d be nice!". If, however, it can be shown that doing so will be to Microsoft’s benefit, then maybe something can be done. Potential benefits seem significant to me – wider adoption of their format rather than a competing standard, fewer problems with government purchasing, their product always being the leader with the best implementation, PR benefits including those about the monopoly business, etc. Not to mention that their current format appears open enough that it’s hard to see what it is they have to gain from not offering perpetual availability or a no-strings patent grant. Other than the ability to use their patents as a lever on other implementors later on, that is. I don’t find that particularly reassuring, but I can’t see anything else they have to gain from the current license as compared to a "completely open" grant for use with the format. Such a grant isn’t giving up your intellectual property, just granting others the rights to use it perpetually and without restriction within a specific problem domain (eg for use with the MS Office XML formats). It’s not that much different to what they’ve done already, it’s just cutting a couple more strings.

    It doesn’t stop me saying "plus, it’d be really nice if …" but realistically, "it’d be nice" won’t help with any public company. That’s no slight on the employees, it’s just how it works.

  27. Eduardo says:

    Chris, you say that people would trust Microsoft if it just explained its motives.

    That’s not true. Microsoft explained to the Kerberos committee that it was motivated to keep Kerberos open, and it explained to Sun it was motivated to make a cross-platform version of Java, and in both cases it turned out it was lieing. People have learned to mistrust Microsoft when it talks about its motives.

    Microsoft has getting away with telling lies for so long that it just can’t understand that people have finally caught on. Microsoft is very out of touch with how the IT community, or at least a large portion of it, has come to mistrust and resent it.

    If Microsoft really wants people to trust it, then it should make the sorts of changes that posters have suggested, such as making Office XML truly open, including a patent grant.

  28. Eduardo says:

    Marc Wagner on the controversy:

  29. Simon Phipps says:

    I respond to your comments about Sun’s alleged IP here:

    To summarise: the statement at OASIS does not indicate that Sun is asserting IP. It dates from before OASIS had a royalty free IP policy and it merely indicates that if Sun /did/ find it had IP it would license it royalty free, in the way that’s generally accepted by companies engaging in standards bodies. Your headline assertion number 2 is thus dead wrong.

    And it’s insulting. Only a person who has not participated in, or has no interest in, or does not know the first thing about, or is trying to deceive others about, open standards can imagine that in this day and age, after two years of participating in an open standards development process, bringing a specification all the way to an accepted Standard, a company can in fact say "hey, we never disclosed this but wouldn’t you know… we do have essential claims and now you have to get a license from us!".

    To do so would be deeply dishonourable, and your implication that Sun’s staff would do this is an insult.

  30. Todd Knarr says:

    Simon, about companies concealing IP in open standards? I just have one name to say: Rambus. Sun may not play that game, but it’s not such an unthinkable thing.

  31. B. Moore says:

    "Todd Knarr wrote

    Simon, about companies concealing IP in open standards? I just have one name to say: Rambus. Sun may not play that game, but it’s not such an unthinkable thing."

    If Sun did that the code for OO.o would fork so fast it would make your head spin And a new keeper would continue the product ailbet I tould have a new name. Then again there are many other Office solutions out there.

  32. David Farning says:

    Speaking of fiduciary duty. How has that share price been doing over the last say, five years? To be honest, this seems to be more of a battle of ego rather than fiduciary duty on Microsoft’s part.

    Those marketing to revenue numbers have not really been looking too good. Maybe Microsoft should focuses on letting developers build a better product, letting the customer decide which they prefer. Rather than allowing legal and marketing to design the product and then preventing customers from leaving.

    As an aside, most of the developers I have meet have been good people trying to do a good job. The dis-connect is happening farther up the chain of command.

  33. Bob Jolliffe says:

    Hi Brian

    I am writing this comment from South Africa where we are faced with some quite different dilemmas to where you sit.

    In South Africa computer software patents are not recognized according to our patent act. It seems to me that the copyright licence of the MS office XSD is quite reasonable, as indeed are the terms of the OpenDocument licence. Where the waters start to get muddy is in the patent licence. Whereas the subject of the copyright licence is plain to see, the patent licence refers to unseen possible patents which may or may not exist or be valid.

    Unfortunately, Microsoft has filed a number of patents in our office, including the "Word-processing document stored in a single XML file" one with which you, as one of the named inventors will be familiar with. Our office is a non-examining, registration only office, so it is quite easy to get these patents granted, even though the claims may have been rejected elsewhere (the USPTO) and they refer to unpatentable subject matter according to our act.

    It is ironic that if the patents were removed from our office, this would even up the playing field considerably. As mentioned above, there is no cause for concern regarding the copyright issue and the MS format would stand on an equal footing of openness with the OpenDocument one. As it is, there is strong pressure to move towards an OpenDocument standard in government. Whereas I agree that the terms of the Sun licence are not completely straightforward, Sun have not registered illegal software patents in our office so the terms are far more attractive.

    Please give yourselves a break and remove the software patents from out office. It is as much in MS interst as the rest of us.



  34. Craig Ringer says:

    Simon Philips: It’s best to have it in writing, even if you know it won’t be needed. An explicit grant like that Adobe has made for PDF for any patents that Sun might later find or obtain for OpenDocument wouldn’t hurt.

    You quoted "After some aggressive uses of asserted patents and sub-licensing issues– again, not from us — the open source communities are now very cautious about precise license terms," and that’s pretty much what I’m getting at. It’s good to know that there are no currently known patents, however, and that does make it a much less pressing problem to my mind.

    B. Moore: Unfortunately, forking wouldn’t help. Unlike copyright, patent rights apply even if the codebase has nothing in common with the patent holder’s, and in fact the patent holder needn’t have written anything. The infringing organization need not even be aware the patent rights exist for their original work to infringe. I don’t think it’ll be a real world issue, of course, but forking wouldn’t help if it became one.

  35. B. Moore says:

    "Mr Ringer wrote

    Unlike copyright, patent rights apply even if the codebase has nothing in common with the patent holder’s, and in fact the patent holder needn’t have written anything. The infringing organization need not even be aware the patent rights exist for their original work to infringe. I don’t think it’ll be a real world issue, of course, but forking wouldn’t help if it became one."

    And that is why Software should not be patented. If someone could do the same thing in a different way then they can still infringe a patent for doing that one thing. Copyrigh is good for the life of the author + 75 years. Why is copyright not good enough to to protect the work. Patents are only good for 20 years and no one can create the same thing without being sued even if there way is better. So you create with patents a way to lock out all other inventions that could be better. A company cannot have (IP *Intellectual Property) because a company is not and Individual than can think on it’s own.

    *Intellectual In`tel*lec"tu*al (?; 135), a. L. intellectualis:

    cf. F. intellectuel.

    1913 Webster

    1. Belonging to, or performed by, the intellect; mental; as,

    intellectual powers, activities, etc.

    1913 Webster

    Logic is to teach us the right use of our reason or

    intellectual powers. –I. Watts.

    1913 Webster

    2. Endowed with intellect; having the power of understanding;

    having capacity for the higher forms of knowledge or

    thought; characterized by intelligence or mental capacity;

    as, an intellectual person.

    1913 Webster

  36. Craig Ringer says:

    B. Moore: Honestly, that’s not a discussion I think is best held here. I’m personally disinclined to argue, but no matter what position you take it won’t help with the issues at hand.

  37. BrianJones says:

    Thanks for all the comments. There are a couple I want to get to and address, but I probably won’t have a chance until next week.

    In the mean time, I did get a chance to write a bit on why we are moving to open formats.

    I can understand from folks that it may be difficult to see why we would open up our formats and that leads to a lack of trust. Hopefully after reading through the post you’ll see that we really do have strong needs to move to an open format, and we’ll continue that forward in future versions:


  38. Problem number two seems to be pretty much cleared now:

    Sun has given a blanket, irrevocable, global, non time-limited patent protection on any ODF implementation:


  39. Brian Kemp says:

    Your #2 just became a non-issue.

    That’s one thing I love about the OSS/Software Libre community: Someone pushes some FUD and in a few days someone’s found it, responded to it, and refuted it.

  40. BrianJones says:

    That’s great (I think). Haven’t looked into it too closely yet but it does look like they’ve been listening and are responding. This issue had been raised before, which may have had them look into it then too:,39026570,39237938,00.htm

    So it looks like what they’ve posted up now is a "coventant not to sue" right? Does that work for everyone?


  41. orcmid says:

    I missed the Simon Phipps comment here. Now I get it.

    Simon, I agree, the Item 2 title is misleading. However, the content is a fairly accurate statement, whether or not you consider the IPR statement an implied license or not.

    I’m sorry you were so insulted that you then extrapolated Brian’s mistatement to an implication of misconduct by someone asserting IP after the fact of a community specification being prepared and adopted. I don’t see anything in discussions here that justifies that leap.

    Brian’s links are to the IPR as it existed before the additional statement by Sun this week. The original statement is still there.

    I think the error is in saying "having to ask Sun for a license." The IPR makes for an automatic license, for all practical purposes. This is easy to clarify. I don’t get any of the innuendos that you and maybe others took from Brian’s statement. And he did point right to the IPR.

    As I said, I’m sorry you were insulted, because I was part of that conversation and because I feel you over-reacted about allegations by Brian that are simply not in evidence.

  42. Per Persson says:

    "We designed the license as simply and straightforward as we could. We wanted to maintain our rights to our IP, while at the same time allowing everyone else to use it."

    So does the GNU GPL.

    "We just wanted to keep our rights, and that’s what the license is doing. It’s saying that it’s ours, but we provide you with a contract that allows you to freely use it."

    What you mean is that you didn’t want to give any more freedom than only the usage of the schema. So don’t try to make it sound like you’re nicer than you actually are…

    "solely for the purpose of reading and writing files"

  43. David says:

    <i>It is true that there is a license behind the OpenDocument format that no one has really talked about. This link says it all:</i><br><br&gt;

    That is total and absolute crap. That is not a license that applies (or any sort of license at all) to Open Document format but simply an agreement that says Sun won’t use any of its patents against it (as if they could anyway). In no way does that link say Sun controls Open Document. This is just getting worse.

  44. tim Uckun says:


    The problem here seems to be that the MS employees think they are honest and honorable people all the while lying outright, spinning, and smearing.

    This whole "you need to get a license from sun" bit was to distract people and it worked for a couple of days. This and age that’s all you get is a couple of days of FUD before you are made to look like a fool.

    Now that both the PDF and SUN issues are laid to rest what’s brian going to throw up to distract people now? Maybe more of what’s been pushed by Fox news maybe even worse. Time wil tell but I will put my money on the fact that it will not be honorable.

  45. Gotan says:

    @ Craig Ringer

    With your "fidicuary duty" argument you say that a corporation like Microsoft has to evaluate any thing they do from the profit angle: if it’ll generate profit it’s good and should be done, if it’ll not generate profit or even make a loss it’s bad and shouldn’t be done.

    Well, with that you’ve given the perfect reason why there are so many concerns that MS will slam the door on their "open" standard at some point in the future. If MS at some point things closing the standard will generate more profit they’ll do that. According to you they have to.

    It’s also a perfect argument why legislation like in Massachusetts is necessary to enforce an open format because otherwise the openness of the format may at some point in time conflict with the "fidicuary duties". Now Massachusetts has given MS some good reasons to use a *really* open document standard. Other states should follow to give Microsoft some more reasons.

  46. CD Baric says:

    Microsoft is a convicted (USA and EU) predatory monopoly that abuses it’s market mass to stifle competition and unfairly extend it’s market share.

    Microsoft lies, cheats and steals. Microsoft knows that for every 100 transgressions it will only get caught once and have to payoff some livid developer company or spread around some cash and influence to make the problems go away – it’s the cost of doing business.

    If Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office had to be sold at a competitive price, you should be able to buy both packages for about $39 each retail and Microsoft would still make a healthy profit.

    Rather than compete fairly, Microsoft chooses to diddle with existing standards and to deliberately conceal the protocols by which they store the client information. This alone is so outrageous that if people were informed of the change up front and the consequences explained to them, nobody would have gone along with it.

    It is good that Microsoft is not the designated driver for their ODF XML standard because we know from long experience that Microsoft always cheats.


  47. Per Persson says:

    In a Swedish article [1], Jonas Persson, Microsoft, responds to some statements about OpenDocument. But he doesn’t even seem to know what OpenDocument is…

    "I think that this debate has quite a narrow outlook. It’s about that everyone should use the same solution all the time, that everyone have the same needs. That’s not the case."

    So, isn’t that the view Microsoft uses to have – everyone should use Microsoft Word! But using OpenDocument, there are alternatives, there’s not just

    "We have xml that is the best standard in the world. With descriptions of how xml data is stored, it’s easy to fetch data. We publish all information about our xml formats and license them them free of cost."

    Also OpenDocument uses XML, and the format is published. The license of Microsoft’s XML formats might be free of cost, but they aren’t "free as in free speach". The license says: "You are not licensed to sublicense or transfer your rights." This means that you can not distribute a program using these schemata under the GPL.

    "In the future you will want to mix text, sound, images and other data. Will that be best done with a single format like Opendocument or with an extendable format like xml, for which you can describe the extensions?"

    Once again, Jonas seems not to know that OpenDocument uses XML.