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: http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/ip/format/xmlpatentlicense.asp.
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: http://www.microsoft.com/office/xml/response.mspx. 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: http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/office/ipr.php. 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: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/license-list.html#GPLIncompatibleLicenses. 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.