Some background information on the reasons we have moved to an XML format as the default in Office "12"

This continues to be a really good discussion and I want to thank everyone who has taken time to post their comments. I know there is a lot to read through and it can get a bit confusing at times, so I'm really glad to see so many of you are up for it. There were a number of comments in the last post where folks said that ultimately there was just a lack of trust in our motivations. That really concerns me so I wanted to get back to a discussion around our motivations. I think that after you see clearly why we are doing this work, you'll probably have a better time understanding where it's going and you'll see why we aren't going to "pull the rug out from under anyone." As I mentioned, Steven Sinofsky addressed this over a year ago:

I think the first place to start is to quickly dispel a common myth I've heard a lot over the years. Some people seem to think that the file formats have some special importance in some kind of competition. It's just not true; at least it hasn't been true for a long time. You have to remember the Microsoft first started developing Office over 20 years ago. At the time, the binary formats were the state of the art. They were fast, small and optimized to take advantage of the feature set of the product. At the same time, they were brittle and not very good if you wanted to reuse the data in the document or attempt some kind of interop with another program. These limitations weren't intentional -- that was just the state of the technology. Corel and Lotus had the same issue. Over the years, we've continued to make some adjustments to those formats, but it's been very incremental and we've placed a high value on backward compatibility. The last time we made a breaking change to the binary formats of today goes back to the start of the Office '97 project (Jan '94 I believe). The main issue we were worried about at that point was that we wanted the format to mirror our internal memory structures so that it was easy to read and write portions of it to disk. We were still concerned with how document behaved when stored on a floppy disk, and performance when you had low memory environments. Documents behavior within business processes wasn't on our mind at all. The typical user in the early 90’s didn’t have a LAN and didn’t share docs all that much – they mainly printed. It was also standard procedure for apps to upgrade the file format with each release to enable new features to be saved. Since people didn’t share files much (other than in their printed form), the main scenario was a single user updating their own version. Of course old version files could be read in the new version, but there was no need to output the old version since you didn’t use it anymore now that you had the new one. In any event, this is hardly the behavior of a company that thinks it has some tremendous value in their particular format. To me, it seems more consistent with a company that cares about it's customer's experience...

For Office 2000, the internet wave had hit strong. We all thought that web pages were the documents of the future and we wanted Office applications to have the ability to save and edit those documents. So, we spent a ton of time (almost 25% of the overall dev budget) making it possible to save any Office document in HTML. Anyone who has used our HTML functionality extensively knows that it's hard to balance HTML simplicity with document fidelity. At the time we were very proud of our work here and couldn't wait to see it take off. I believe that we learned a lot from that experience. Our scenario was that people would start saving “docs” as HTML on their intranet sites and browse them with the browser. We viewed the browser as “electronic paper” that we had to “print” to (i.e. perfect fidelity). We had already got a lot of feedback from our Word97 Internet Assistant add-in that any loss of fidelity when saving as a web page was unacceptable and a “bug”. As it turned out, this usage scenario did not become as common as we thought it would and a zillion conspiracy theories formed about why we “really” did it. Many people assumed that a better approach would have been to save as “clean” HTML even if the result did not look exactly like what the user saw on the screen. We felt that the core office applications (other than FrontPage) were not really meant to be web page authoring tools, so we focused on converting docs to exact replicas in HTML. We didn't want people losing any functionality when saving to HTML so we had to figure out a way to store everything that could have existed in a binary document as HTML. We thought we were clever creating a bunch of "mso-" css properties that allowed us to roundtrip everything. HTML didn't take off in the same way we had expected, and today, the main use for Office HTML is for interoperability on the clipboard, though of course the biggest use is within e-mail (WordMail).

For Office XP (started in 1998), we really started thinking seriously about how Office documents were used outside of the applications. Of course the SGML folks (like Charles Goldfarb and Jean Paoli who has been working on this stuff for over 2 decades) have all been saying that for ages and they were right! We had spent so much time focusing on making it really easy to create documents, but hadn't thought a lot about what happens once those documents are created. This is one of the benefits we saw in a new feature called SmartTags. We not only wanted to give you useful actions to take on the content of your documents, we also wanted to make it possible to tag that content so that it could be leveraged by other processes. We also built the first XML file format in Office, SpreadsheetML. Folks on Wall Street and in Finance offices in particular had wanted ways to pull information out of their financial models. For equity research reports, they valued both the speed with which they could publish a report, and the accuracy of the data in the report. By storing their Excel models as XML, it made it easier to quickly pull data out without having to run Excel. This meant they could run their code on a server, and then use that data to verify that the information in the reports was accurate. This was really just the beginning though. The two big problems were that the SpreadsheetML format wasn't full fidelity (meaning not everything in the file could be saved as XML), and there wasn't an XML format for Word, which they used to generate the reports.

In Office 2003, we really started to gain a lot of momentum around XML. We had heard from a number of big customers that they needed XML support for their Word documents. People were trying all kinds of hacks on top of the Object Models to produce XML that they could work with. We had Wall Street firms with the need to integrate with XML more dramatically than we had imagined, so that they could do structured authoring with repurposable data. We had law firms that were trying to build solutions that could automatically generate legal documents based on data about who was involved in the case, as well as business logic around what pieces of content were required for that case. We also were getting a lot of demand for supporting other people's existing internal schemas. Not only did people want the Word document itself represented in XML, they also wanted to add their own XML markup to the files. Let's take a government office as an example here. Imagine they have a template that folks can use to submit to receive a permit. While it's nice that the formatting information can be represented in XML, they don't care as much about what's bold, numbered, or any other kind of random formatting. What they do care about is the name of the person that submitted the permit; what their address is; and what type of work they are seeking a permit for. Those things can all be labeled using content controls and custom XML.

It was this support for both reference schemas (SpreadsheetML and WordprocessingML) in combination with support for customer defined schemas (your own XML) that finally made it possible for the content of Office documents to play a role in business processes. We had moved from the world of the Office document being a black box that only had a small collection of meta-data scrawled on top; to being an open, interoperable, extensible, and extremely valuable piece of business processes.

At the same time, there are zillions of documents out there in older binary formats. We had to ask ourselves "who is going to take care to make sure those older document have a path forward?" "Who is focusing on doing the hard work to preserve fidelity between the new and the old?" We're doing that. We're making a deep investment in this compatibility to make sure our customers have a very good experience.

Now we move to Office "12". We are still building on the momentum we started over 6 years ago. Not only are we improving the XML formats so that they can represent every Word, PowerPoint, and Excel document out there, but we are making it the default format. We viewed this as something that we absolutely had to do this version. Office documents are so much more important as elements of business processes than we had initially been giving them credit for. You may have seen how we now talk about Office as a system. This is because it's no longer about the documents behavior in the application. It's about the entire document lifecycle. We have helped ourselves in all kinds of ways that no one has really thought about (or at least written about) yet. We can build smarts into Windows Sharepoint Services so that the server can actually look into the document, make decisions based on the document content, write data back into the document, all without having to run application code. We have a world where customers need to track and audit parts of documents that they never needed to do before.

We have customers in equity research who can't wait for these new formats with the content controls and custom XML support. The speed with which they will be able to publish their documents, while at the same time meeting the increasing regulation requirements is amazing. All the information within each research report is available to them. The system used to consist of printing out the report and having humans read through each one verifying the financial figures and making sure they had all the necessary disclosures. Now that can just be an easily automated piece of the larger workflow.

There is a customer (a bank) that we've been meeting with that generates documents on demand for all their loans. They are currently running Office 2000. These documents are built using smaller document fragments, and the logic for which fragments are used is based on the details of the particular loan. The data is then pushed into the document using the Word Object Model to find bookmarks and push the data into the relevant bookmarks. They do this in an automated fashion and turn out thousands of these documents a year. They currently have over 70 servers each with Word 2000 installed to turn these documents out in an automated fashion. Word isn't supported running in an unattended fashion, but they've decided to do it anyway (they didn't really have a choice). Now with the new XML formats and the support for custom defined schema, generating these documents will be a snap. It wouldn't even take up one full machine's resources. It will only need to consist of a small bit of code to handle the business logic. The code to build the document itself will only be a few lines.

The last example I have is one that benefits us in Office. Today, we have a couple thousand specifications that we've written for the Office "12" project. For each spec, there are a number of required sections that people need to fill out based on different processes we have for our design. The folks driving any of those processes need to be able to make sure that everyone has filled out the proper sections. When the files were all binary documents, we had to automate Word to be able to do this check. The automation had Word open the file, find the range of text for the specific section, and see if it was filled in. It would take about 8 hours to run the check across those few thousand documents. Because of this we only ran the check every couple of weeks, and it would have to kick off at night when folks were leaving and checked out in the morning. Often the check would fail, so we'd wait until the next night and run it again. At PDC the other week, I showed a similar collection of documents (actually it was only about 300). These documents were all stored in the new format though. I wrote a small about of (30 lines of code)that iterated over all those document and returned the author, counted all the paragraphs, and counted how many comments there were. To run that solution (which was already more complex than what we were trying to do internally) it took about 1 to 2 seconds. So, if I had increased the collection to 3000, it would have been at most 20 seconds (compared to 8 hours)!

We knew a long time ago that customers and the development community would ask what they could do with the new Office XML formats since they are specifically designed to address scenarios that go beyond the desktop. That is why we decided to take an open and royalty-free approach almost two years ago when we launched Office 2003. There has been a lot of back and forth in this blog on whether we went far enough and whether our motives are pure. It is sort of fun to question motives and pick apart licenses (personally, I'd rather be talking about the design of the formats), but I can tell you that our intent is to make the formats useful to customers and the development community. If we wanted to create a bunch of "gotchas" to trip people up, I think we could have done a better job.

A side benefit of this move is that now that we are creating a new format, we can do a lot of the other things our customers have wanted us to do within the binary formats for the past few releases (which we weren't able to do since we didn't want to break compatibility). Improved robustness; file size; and new features are all added side benefits. I already mentioned how Excel is now able to increase the limits on the number of rows and columns as well as other limitations they had when confined to the existing binary formats. We've also found that using ZIP and XML leads to a significantly more robust file. I've given demos where I delete whole blocks of bits from the files and we're still able to recover the remainder of the content. We see so many benefits to this new format, we often forget to mention all the best parts.

We've been fortunate to get a lot of great support from the public sector for our work. We’ve been working for many years now with governments to understand their needs with XML and they understand what we’ve been doing and our commitment to being open.

Massachusetts is obviously an interesting case and our competitors are having a lot of fun trying to turn this into a bigger story, but from what I've heard, I think some officials at the State were duped. There is no question that this licensing stuff can be really confusing. Just a few months ago, a government official from Massachusetts took a hard look at the Office XML program and publicly stated that his office found it to be "open" and fully consistent with the State's policies. Look here: ( page 23). For the most part, that announcement sort of inspired a yawn around here because our program had already been out for a year and had received a lot of good feedback from other governments. What happened after that? Well, the guy was deluged by lobbyists and influencers who told him that was a bad decision. People told him that the licenses were full of ghosts and scary shadows and bogeymen who would be bad for Massachusetts. It was tough to resist this line of argument because IBM/Lotus and Sun have a big presence in his State. The official himself had also been the CEO of an open source company just before taking office. So, just before he left office (yes, he just took off), he fired off his shot gun with this new policy while running out the door without really thinking through all the implications. Starting to get a picture of what happened? It's actually even a bit uglier that than, but I won't bore you with the details.

Anyway, that's life and we're going to work through the issue. We're already taking an open approach, so we are fundamentally supporting the vision of governments that are interested in open formats. There are also a bunch of smart people in Massachusetts who are trying to do the right thing and we want to work with them in a constructive way. That's our plan.

As usual, I welcome your feedback.


Comments (48)
  1. Patrick says:

    Quote Bryan :"There are also a bunch of smart people in Massachusetts who are trying to do the right thing …".

    It’s simultaneously strange, amazing and utterly incomprehensible that your publications continue to write articles about Microsoft XML that appear to elevate and lend credibility to their intend. It’s almost as if I am reading something coming out of the Pyongyang press.

    The process in Massachusetts that resulted into the discussion was done methodically, transparent and well documented, indeed also by smart people over two years!

    One issue involved in Massachusetts was the undocumented binary key which I believe binds the presentation aspects of MSXML to the MS Windows-Application.

    In addition your Microsoft scheme is encumbered with patents and vendor centricity. The license language is vague.

    If Truth and Honesty is characterized by simplicity, clear words and clarity than Microsoft is far from that!

  2. BrianJones says:

    Patrick, I’m not sure what you are refering to about an undocumented binary key. Which key? There is no "binary key".

    The licensing issue is confusing for a number of people, including myself. Someone from Sun left a comment on my last post accusing me of spreading FUD when I asked some questions about the Sun license. I think that if you look at all three formats we’ve been discussing: MS Office; OpenDocument; and PDF; there are a number of questions.

    There has been FUD spread about the Microsoft Office Open XML formats for the past 3 months. Our license is pretty simple and straightforward, but it is still a legal document and has a lot of "legalese" in it. I haven’t read through the PDF stuff in enough detail to get into that. In reguards to OpenDocument, based on the comments left by the guy from Sun, it sounds like they don’t believe they have IP so they have chosen to not provide a license and instead promise they will provide one if IP turns up. That seems like a wierd response to me. If they don’t have any IP, why don’t they just provide something legally binding to the developer community.


  3. Todd Knarr says:

    Brian: regarding Sun’s IPR statement, I believe it’s more of "We don’t have any IP that we know of in the OpenDocument specification and we obviously can’t give out licenses for what doesn’t exist. But if it turns out anything in the spec is in fact covered by our IP, we commit here and now to licensing that IP royalty-free (see the OASIS royalty-free definition for details) for the purposes of implementing OpenDocument.". That seems straightforward to me.

    The PDF license seems similarly straightfoward. The only twist is that PDF defines some access-control mechanisms, and the license says "If you want to be covered under the license, your implementation can’t break or ignore applicable access-control mechanisms as defined in the spec.". Relatively easy to understand.

    I’ve noticed you haven’t addressed the two points I raised before: concerns about new users obtaining licenses in the future given that the license can’t be obtained except directly from Microsoft and there’s no commitment in writing anywhere that new licenses will be granted (this is different from a license being perpetual after being granted), and concerns over the breadth of the "enabling technology" excluded from the license given that "general word processing, spreadsheet or presentation features or functionality" is explicitly part of the exclusion. Reading the MS license language in a straightforward way raises large red flags for me. And when anyone says "Trust us." in regards to terms of a written contract, I instantly flash to what a lawyer told me: "If it matters in a contract, get it in writing with signatures and preferrably dates. If the other guys won’t commit to it in writing, assume they have a good reason for not wanting to be tied down on it. And don’t commit to anything in writing yourself unless you’re able and willing to make good on it.".

  4. Sherwin says:

    Brian, just a question:

    Why doesn’t MS just remove the sublicensing restriction? It seems that you’ve added a patent license, which removes that question (for customers like the state of massachucettes).

    Would it really be that hard to remove the sublicensing restriction? To be terribly honest, I cannot really see the advantage in maintaing that restriction, except that it causes considerable friction with certain parties.

    I mean, its not like the supposed ‘competition’ isn’t implementing the formats anyone. As you say, already has WordML support.

    The sublicensing restriction won’t stop anyone from supporting Office XML formats. And even if if did, you wouldn’t want that, right?

    I guess I’m just confused. The whole conflict seems like its over a few sentances of legalese that some overzealous lawyer put in.

    You (the developers) *really* want to spread the Office XML formats.

    The rest of the world *really* wants true open formats.

    It’s not that big of a divide-> it really seems like a conflict over a non-issue.

    I guess, people wonder if there is some kind of sinster motive in the background. "Maybe MS isn’t sublicensing so that some day they can legally bludgeon OpenOffice, or XXX product." I doubt that is the case ; so why not remove the few sentances, end all the debate regarding the ‘openess’ of the Office XML format, and save yourself (and the rest of MS) a whole lot of conflict.

    Oh, by the way, I think your position about not supporting OASIS formats because they don’t get as many features as the Office XML foramts is a bit of a strawman 😉 You don’t have to comment on it, but you support other legacy formats, correct? Like Office 95 doc?

    I dunno, but it seems like it would make some sense to put the OASIS formats in that same legacy category, especially so you could offer an upgrade path for customers currently in the star office camp. I guess it might represent an unreasonable technical burden, and thats a *very* legitimate response for not supporting an extremely small customer deamnd. But because it has fewer features? *shrug* 🙂

    I just see the world a different way 🙂 I want everyone to cooperate, especially when interestes are almost aligned, and the various arguments/positions are so close, yet still separated.

    Just my 20000 cents.

  5. Ralph says:


    You seem sincere, so I will answer you as if these were serious.

    The first point is a little hard to take serious, but I will try. You say:

    "but there was no need to output the old version since you didn’t use it anymore now that you had the new one"

    This would be true if everyone was upgrading at the same time, but not otherwise. For example, I have to exchange documents with clients who may have newer versions of Office than I do. I am stuck at Office 97 and don’t see any signs that Microsoft will ever sell me an upgrade on reasonable terms(which include no activation).

    You say:

    "Some people seem to think that the file formats have some special importance in some kind of competition. It’s just not true;"

    Do you really believe this? If Microsoft did not believe their file formats were a way to lock customers in, why would they not openly document them. There is no reasonable purpose served in providing customers with a product that stores data in undocumented file formats. The Microsoft XML license is not acceptable and I don’t see how anyone could think it is. I read it and thought about it for several days. Why should anyonehave to accept such legalese in order to know how their data is stored? You make compasisons to PDF. I pointed you to freely available documents showing how they store their files. Where is the similar documentation for Office 2000 formats? I read a book recently where the author discussed the underlying metaphors of various operating systems. UNIX is based on the file, for example as the underlying structure for everything(mostly). He then commented on Windows havinf customer lock-in as its underlying metaphor. This really rung true and was the first time I thought about it. There is nothing wrong with the binary file formats used by Outlook or Office. That is, there is nothing wrong, if they were publicly documented and they were not.

    You say:

    "The typical user in the early 90’s didn’t have a LAN and didn’t share docs all that much – they mainly printed."

    Where did anyone get this kind of idea? I was regularly exchanging documents with friends from the early 1990s and most computer users I knew were doing so. File compatablilty was a known and significant problem from at least that time. Microsoft(and to be fair, others) viewed their proprietary file formats as a way to lock in customers. Microsoft’s behaviour is not consistent with any other interpretation.

    Office 2000 was the generation of Office where Microsoft felt in control of the market enough that it could force such a feature as avtivation on its customers. That one feature certainly kept me from upgrading. I used SmartSuite for a while, then TextMaker and now mostly OpenOffice. I frequently convert customers of mine to OpenOffice and the arrogant corporate attitude is a big reason I strongly recommend anyone against Microsoft Office. A small business is just crazy to depend on a product that needs activation or to store its data in proprietary, undocumented formats.

    I am often reminded that Bill Gates dad is a lawyer. Why, you say? When I read Microsoft license agreements(and if you use Microsoft products, you are frequently forced to read and agree to these license agreements), I am always struck by how unreasonably they are drawn. Why do they expect me to agree to all these unreasonable things? It must be that they are so confident of their market power that they could care absolutely nothing about the customer.

  6. dave says:

    Hi Brian, have you seen this editorial on Fox News?,2933,170724,00.html

    Your employer appears to be paying this fellow (Google for the crucially undisclosed background info) to spread untruths about the Massachusetts decision. You were asking about trust and I have to say that this kind of thing is very distasteful. As is funding a group called Citizens Against Government Waste to do the same when they aren’t actually, you know, ‘citizens’ or ‘against government waste’ as such. Kind of underhand really. Tacky, even.

    And please, feel free to ‘bore us with the details’ of your take on the ugly truth behind the Massachusetts decision. I’m intrigued by the novelty, usually the wacky conspiracy theories are being spread about Micosoft rather than the other way around. Was he ‘bought’ or ‘nobbled’, is that what you’re darkly hinting at? Perhaps conspiracy, blackmail or fraud? If you’ve got inside info then surely the good people of MA have a right to know?

  7. Eduardo says:

    Microsoft is in a very difficult position. It has two huge, and enormously profitable interlocking monopolies in Office and Windows. The monopolies rest in part on lock-in tactics, including closed interfaces, tools that compile for Windows only, and closed file formats.

    The lock-in tactics have some major disadvantages for users, but they have put up with them for a long time because they had no alternatives. Now with SOA, Linux, open source, OpenOffice and the Open Document Format, they suddenly have a real alternative, and many are going to take it up.

    Microsoft has two basic ways to respond, and both are bad. It could keep its formats closed, but then a lot of organizations will abandon it, and its monopolies would suffer. It could instead add OpenDoc support to Office, but then open source programs could process Office documents, which would undermine Microsoft’s monopolies.

    Microsoft has chosen a strange, in-between strategy. This is to make Office XML more open, but not nearly as open as users really want. Then it tries to persuade users to stick with Office.

    Various arguments are presented. Microsoft tries to trick people into thinking Office XML is much more open than it really is. It tries to persuade people they really don’t want a truly open solution. It falsely claims that the Open Document Format is far less functional than it really is. The problem for Microsoft is that many users will not be fooled by Microsoft’s FUD.

    Brian, part of why I keep posting here is I am trying to knock some sense into your head. No company stays on top forever. At one time IBM was king everything, and now it is the biggest company, but not nearly as powerful. At one time Ford completely dominated the automobile market, now it is just another big company.

    Microsoft has had a good run at the top, but now its luck has run out. Technology is moving in new directions that Microsoft can’t control, no matter how clever it is, and that will undermine its monopolies.

    I don’t want to destroy Microsoft. I just want it to turn into a normal big company that competes fairly and stops abusing its customers. And that is going to happen, whether Microsoft fights it and causes itself and everyone else a lot of unnecessary pain, or it it wises up and realizes the tide has changed.

    Brian, I understand you are a tech guy and you don’t make the business decsions about licensing and closed-versus-open. However, you are in the middle of this whole thing, and you can sit back and look at the larger picture. If you do so, perhaps you could have some positive influence inside Microsoft and help it realize it really needs to change direction.

  8. orcmid says:

    I love this kind of "this is what the world was like then and this is what we were thinking about when we did XYZ." It’s like looking over the shoulders of Raymond Chen and Larry Osterman about how things get the way they are and everything that is done not to get in the way of people bringing their work and applications onto a newer system.

    Also, Chris Pratley did a cool thing. When he chimed in on the previous thread, he left a link to a great article he posted 17 months ago before all this hoo-hah about whose XML is opener than thine. Here’s the link in case it snuck by anyone:

  9. orcmid says:

    I notice that about every other posting from Mr. SunMink I get cheesed off by the insinuendo (the previous term is available under a Creative Commons license with no rights retained). Let me see how to do this calmly.

    First, on sublicensing. The BSD License does not permit sublicensing. You have to pass their license and anyone else’s derivative licensing downstream forever. Lots of licenses don’t permit sublicensing.

    Now remembering that with regard to sublicensing we are only talking about copyright and not patents. There is a very useful discussion of all of this in Larry Rosen’s book, "Open Source Licensing: Software Freedom and Intellectual Property Law." In particular, he comes up with two licenses, his Academic Freedom License (AFL) which is in the same family as the BSD and his Open Software License (OSL) which is in the same family as the GPL in that it requires reciprocity. Both of these license provide for sublicensing which solves a lot of problems for open-source developer and anyone making derivative works where attribution is required by the license on the original.

    Just for calibration, I favor the AFL and will start using it instead of the BSD license on material where I have the right to choose the license. (My work on trustworthiness is already under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 and that makes for a nice match between written works and software.)

    Now, as to patent licenses, this is just not the same as the copyright situation. In fact, open-source copyright licenses for software typically only have *defensive* requirements with regard to patents. (Notice the defensive statement in the Microsoft Royalty free license too.)

    The thing to look at in the royalty-free licenses (or declarations of automatic licenses for possible future patents) is the business about essential/necessary claims. The royalty-free patent licenses that I have seen are for the most part conditional on it being not possible for infringement to be avoided without the license and conditional on the infringement being with regard to a particular usage of the patented principle.

    The complication for me is that you have to see the patent and digest it to figure out whether there’s no way to avoid infringement and there’s no alternative but to need to have the license. Secondly, and this may be more important with regard to sublicensing, there is the condition on the circumstances of application on which the license is predicated as well. In the Microsoft case, it is in processing the Office XML formats (not any other formats that might benefit by being processed using the patented approach — the patented technique might be cool, but if you use it in processing OOo documents, the royalty-free license doesn’t apply to you and that doesn’t imply particular consequences, on ly that you can’t use the royalty-free license and you’ll have to negotiate a different one, maybe royalty-free, maybe not).

    There is a similar case in the Sun statement with regard to the Open Office format, along with the slipshod way that it might also be read that you must be a W3C member or an OASIS member (it’s not clear) to enjoy the automatic royalty-free promise. Also, the Sun patent release, as I recall, requires reciprocity, something most of us need not be concerned about. The Microsoft license makes no reciprocity requirement, but has a defensive condition that will automatically break your license if you do something naughty.

    Now with regard to the GPL, Rosen offers an extensive analysis on pp.133-136 of his book. It is a short and very worthwhile read. The only GPL provision on patents is a defensive one and all it does is void a GPL license if there is no way to work around a patent claim successfully made aganst a GPL-licensed work. And, "the risk from patent infringement is the same whether you use the GPL, any other open source license, or indeed any proprietary license."

    All the Microsoft license does is say that you aren’t at risk from them if you comply with the terms of their license and that the license is royalty-free.

    There is nothing in the GPL (version 2) about sublicensing of patents, there is only sublicensing of what the GPL licenses, and patents are not part of the GPL subject matter. It is a copyright license. That is all section 6 of the GPL is about. Version 3 may do something different. That all remains to be seen.

    OK, now what about the Sun license simply being boilerplate and nothing to worry about? My favorite quote from Larry, at the top of the chapter on IP in my thesis, is this: “… Whether you agree or disagree with the ethics of a licensor, accepting software under a license binds you to the terms of that license; you need only concern yourself with doing what you agreed to, not with whatever gods or demons the licensor prays to.” (pp.108-109).

    I recommend the Larry Rosen book. With regard to licenses, I recommend reading them. Reading them and comparing them. It’s all available for you to satisfy yourself about and to fact-check the heck out of them. And be careful to understand the subject matter to which the license applies. Patent license are entirely different beasts from copyright licenses, including all of the automatic Open-Source-Definition-compliant ones like the GPL, AFL, BSD, and so on.

    Now, what about the Mink and Well, what I notice is that there are no facts, just claims about things other people claimed about other people’s claims. At no point are the two license declarations hauled out and compared for whatever the supposed difference is. When it comes to licenses (and releases) what matters is what the license (or release) says.

    I guess, to satisfy myself and reaffirm my previous analysis of this, that I need to do exacctly that: parade out what is really asserted in these license statements, line by line. All y’all are welcome to do the same.

  10. orcmid says:

    I did a little fact checking on the Fact News article that Dave mentions:,2933,170724,00.html

    I don’t know what has it be called an editorial. But it is by James Prendergast and at the very bottom it says that "Jim Prendergast is executive director of Americans for Technology Leadership."

    On the ATL web site, the "About Us" tab tells you exactly who supports the organization. It’s an interesting mix, and Microsoft is one of the boosters.

    There is also sponsorship by Citizens Against Government Waste, an organization mentioned in the article too. At their "About Us" page,, you learn they’ve been around for a while and that they have origins in the Grace commision that was created precisely for that purpose. Jack Anderson, the columnist (anybody here old enough to remember Drew Pearson?) is the surviving founder of the organization.

    I also checked on the Americans for Competitive Technology, a very large advocacy organization. Microsoft is there too, along with Oracle and a lengthy list of others.

    So whether or not you agree with the positions and assessments by executives of these organizations, I don’t think there is anything being hidden.

    I do think you are seeing a legitimate expression of differences in philosophy about government operations and the relationship of that to the marketplace. YOu can disagree with that but that doesn’t mean they don’t have that seriously-considered point of view.

    And, in case it matters, I thought it was counterproductive for Microsoft to object so loudly in this instance. If the move by Massachusetts is ill-conceived, events will bear that out. Technical fiats by government (including the declaration to use ASCII in the LBJ administration) tend to be ignored by people who actually have to do the work. Life seems to just go on. That has nothing to do with whether or not the fiat is a good idea, though I think the Massachusetts policy is premature at the very least.

  11. Gene says:


    And you thought you were just going to blog a bit about the XML format and how excited you are about the possibilities it brings?

    Bill apparently made an illegal right hand turn on red in New Mexico, in 1975. I say that is indicitive of his general disregard for law, God, and humanity. The $750 Million dollars he recently donated to help fight disease in Africa, only proves his own guilty suffering. In fact, I’ve heard from a friends uncles cousin, that he’ll be sublicensing the souls of everyone of those africans who will receive medicine.

    Oh yea, and I’ve recently seen an old photograph of him on a grassy knoll; where was he on November 22, 1963 anyway?


  12. dave says:

    orcmid: It was Fox News who labelled the article as an editorial, not me.

    Also, if you’re just starting to look into the activities of the so-called Citizens Against Government Waste and Americans for Technology Leadership you be interested in this:

    It details how they together conducted a (rather poorly organised) fake grassroots letter writing campaign on Microsoft’s behalf that included two letters from dead people, a letter sent from a non-existant City, and multiple *identical* letters sent by various concerned citizens.

    As I said earlier: tacky. Their extremist political views (and MSFT corporations apparent support of same) are the least of the problems. Those political ‘opinions’ (such as their clear misunderstanding of what a free market is) could easily be argued about ad naseum, but I believe the issue of trust which I was responding to was raised initially by Brian and the lack of disclosure in these astroturfing campaigns is detrimental to building such trust.

  13. dave says:

    Also, Brain (and orcmid, who seems well versed in these matters) a response to the latest move by Sun in opening up their contribution to OpenDocument would be interesting:

  14. Jussi Kukkonen says:

    Brian, it seems you have a hard time understanding why some people seem to be opposed to any file format Microsoft proposes for use as a global document standard (de-facto or otherwise). I’ll try to explain my view:

    Like you explained this is the first time we have the possibility of non-binary document formats that could be used over multiple applications and systems. I feel that keeping these formats as free as possible is of utmost importance — to ensure document availability over long periods of time and over different systems AND to ensure competition in a market that really hasn’t seen a lot competition recently.

    Whit this in mind, which would I rather choose:

    * format A): developed mainly by a company that has a monopoly-like position in the market. The same company has a history of questionable moves regarding standards and interoperability (Kerberos, DR-DOS, SMB, Outlook calendar formats)

    * format B): developed by an international consortium with thousands of members. The main implementations so far have been by open source projects.

    Can you honestly not understand why option B, while not perfect*, just sounds so much better?

    *) I do understand that a standardized format is always slower to get new innovations (we might even have to drop some functionality from current programs), that applications might have to do things in unoptimized ways and that development might be more expensive/slower. These are costs I’m ready bear.

  15. Sam says:

    MS plans to work with Massachusetts?

    Is supporting a "third party, public – minded" organization to go after MA like an attack dog part of "working with?"

    If so, that’s a brand new definition.

    Please contact Oxford to make your definition the official one.

  16. orcmid says:

    Dave, thanks for the link.

    Now, we can leave SunMink to decide whether or not the new declaration by Sun is a license or not and whether the previous declaration was tantamount to a license.

    (I think Brian was on thin ice in asserting that a crafted license statement was required, though it would certainly be nice to have had clarity like that available. In any case, I think that point, which could have been addressed on its simple merits was no grounds for a claim of 100% FUD, an observation that I find shrill, basically ill-mannered, and rather closed-minded.)

    I also think the actual Sun announcement needs to be examined. You’ll notice that it still applies solely to implementations of the OpenDocument 1.0 (and successor) formats, and only for those specifications that Sun participates in (and I’m probably overlooking whatever subtlety "OASIS rules" introduce here).

    This is still very close to the Microsoft terms that we’ve been arguing about here and elsewhere, except Microsoft’s defensive qualification does not involve reciprocity. The Sun declaration is also a promise to a future that it might be difficult for Microsoft to make (since they are the sole authors and custodians of the Open Office XML Specifications) in a way that is given as much credibility. (I.e., Microsoft is expected to defect even though Sun can defect more easily — at less cost in the marketplace — and either way the parties would have customers and themselves disrupted in unpredictable and negative ways. I actually trust Microsoft more in this regard simply because they have so much more to lose and they are extremely attentive to customer reaction no matter what we say about how they have dealt with OEMs and competitor access to the platform. They live under a microscope and from my view, that is working out.)

    There are other statements made by SunMink about this new Sun statement that I simply can’t find evidence for in the actual statement on the OASIS site. Simon might be reflecting Sun’s intention, I just can’t find it as a direct interpretation of the actual statement.

    Maybe the safety of other people’s extensions comes in the fact that the OpenDocument specification has two flavors of schema: strict and not-strict and there appears to be room for lots of private customization (you know, like in Kerberos –oh naughty Microsoft — or say, Star Office — if one wants to be an equal-opportunity distruster.)

    You’ll also notice that the new Sun statement is a good example of a reciprocity deal concerning patent licenses.

    Now, is this good news and good work? You bet. The original IPR statement was sloppy and this is pretty direct and clear, even with all of those words that lawyers have to put in things.

    I think Sun just did a cool thing and it is great that they’d been working at it all along. I think all of the attention to the license question, and threads like this one in various venues have had an impact on that all the way around. This seems like pretty positive progress to me.

  17. orcmid says:

    Oh, I’m sorry, I must have too much coffee already this morning. I just had this really fanciful thought. And I’ll inflict in on all y’all.

    Now, because the implementation is LGPL’d, that means anybody can use it as a component/library for building something else. I don’t know how finely that goes, but doesn’t that mean that I can build a proprietary office-productivity suite atop OO.o components and sell it and support it as a proprietary package (you know, like Star Office).

    Now, if I can also use the non-strict schema to put in all of my goodies that make me fully interoperable with, say, Microsoft Office 12, could I embrace and extend and extinguish OO.o? After all, do you really think Massachusetts remembered to budget and staff certification and verification processes for assuring that all of those OpenDocument 1.x-compliant vendors actually produce and ingest interchangeable documents?

    Wow, even Microsoft could do this, yes? I could do it, with a little help from venture capitalists and smart developers who want to be millionaires at 35. We’ll call it the Electric Pencil Open Document Architecture Reload. Haa, haaa. Open-Government Edition. Heh.

  18. Dennis says:


    You said "Just a few months ago, a government official from Massachusetts took a hard look at the Office XML program and publicly stated that his office found it to be "open" and fully consistent with the State’s policies. Look here: ( page 23)."

    I looked there the presentation and found that the slide on page 23 says:

    Demonstrated sustainability will get people to


    Microsoft changes their Office 2003 license:

    Patented XML documents can be opened and read by any reader

    License is now in perpetuity

    Could you please explain how this could possibly mean "a government official from Massachusetts … publicly stated that [Office XML program] (is) fully consistent with the State’s policies"


  19. WPoust says:

    I’m looking forward to the day when all Word versions will generate XML by default. I work for a company that creates medical transcription systems. The hoops that we jump through to mine information from Word documents is mind-numbing. Plus, there’s a significant overhead in just driving Word to get the information we need.

    It’s great that Microsoft is being open-minded in sharing its XML schemas with the world. Considering the current Word document format is totally closed, you’re definitely heading is a direction where outside developers can add value.

    I think the HTML formatting decisions of the past were unfortunate. There are two ways of looking at documents: 1) format centric. or 2) content centric. There been several occassions where I would have loved to use parts of documents in some web pages. After looking at the html that was generated, I had to do my own cleaning. In those cases, I wanted to just content and not the format.

    In our company, we are defining our own document schema and transforming the Word XML docs along with additional system data. It seems to me that people who want a specific XML schema format really should be working on XML transforms and not Microsoft product transforms.

  20. Eduardo says:

    Brian, you said the purpose of the post was to explain your motivations so that people can see that Microsoft is trustworthy.

    People have said they don’t trust Office XML in part because of the license. That means if you want to get people to trust you, you have to explain the motivations behind the license.

    However, you didn’t do that. You talked about the motivations behind moving to XML, which was pointless, because everyone here knows why moving to XML is a good idea. You mentioned there is controversy over the licenses, but you don’t say anything about the motivations behind the license.

    I assume that was an intentional omission on your part. You knew that anything you said would just get you in more hot water, so you avoided the subject. I have noticed that with corporate people and politicians. If you raise an awkward question, they duck it by talking at length about something else.

    The fact that you purposely avoided discussing the motivations behind the license just gives people more reason to mistrust Microsoft.

  21. BrianJones says:

    There has been some negative feedback here that I’d like to address. It’s disappointing how rude many of the people interested in the licenses have been, but that’s ok, I don’t offend easily. I am curious though if those folks are expecting to accomplish anything here with that tone though? While there are a handful of loud voices making comments, they are still very much in the minority. I receive a lot of e-mails from folks who are getting really tired of the licensing discussion. I want to continue to help out here, but I can’t spend all my time on this. Someone said earlier on that he was were trying to hammer his point into my head. Well I feel the same way. I want you to open your eyes here and see the benefits of what we’re doing.

    For the readers who commented that I shouldn’t be covering the value of XML because "everyone already gets it", remember that not everyone reading these posts are like you. Many people have had no reason to care about XML at all up until now and it’s a new technology to them. It’s important to take the time to get everyone else up to speed here too. We aren’t talking about a developer tool here, we’re talking about a word processor with over 400 million users. What percentage of those folks care about XML? I want to help as many people as possible understand the uses here and how we got to where we are. I’m going to continue posting examples of what customers are doing or trying to do so that folks can really see the true power here of XML formats and how important strong support for customer defined schemas is.

    In prior posts, there were a lot of people who said they didn’t understand why we were moving to these open formats and wanted to know our motivations. Of course we aren’t doing this just for the heck of opening the formats. There are significantly valuable customer scenarios here, and that’s why were doing it. These scenarios are extremely important to us, and we’re going to work hard to make sure they are supported.

    I’ve had a number of people that really appreciated the information in this post because it gave them more insight into the use of XML as well as the history of our file formats. Thanks for your e-mails and I’ll definitely keep the information flowing.

    Another reader commented earlier in this thread that most people he knew were sending around electronic documents in the early ’90s. Well that’s probably true that most people he knew were doing that… but most computer users in general weren’t. I personally didn’t get an e-mail address until 1994 and didn’t really even take advantage of it right away. That probably makes me a bit lame (sounds like a couple of you already think I’m completely lame), but I can guarantee you that I’m still in the higher bracket of technology adapters. The *average* user was not exchanging electronic documents outside of their organization in the early ’90s. Advanced users were, but that’s not the same thing. My point was that at that time it was common practice for most software applications to change their formats and not maintain backwards compatibility. It wasn’t going to be a huge painpoint for the majority of users because they would just upgrade their files and they were set. Of course that changed by the time Office ’97 shipped and there was a lot of user pain around the change. It’s something we’ve taken really seriously and are doing a ton of work to make sure that collaboration with the new formats will work. We’re providing free patches for all users of Office 2000, XP, and 2003 that allow them to read and write the new formats. In the Massachusetts case they sited the cost of upgrading to Office ’12’ as a reason for not wanting to use our new formats. Well that isn’t even a requirement; anyone with an version of Office 2000, XP, and 2003 will be able to take advantage of the new formats for free. That is a gigantic user base. This is really awesome stuff.


  22. Eduardo says:

    Brian, you are still ducking the issue. Why did Microsoft decide to make the Office XML license a good deal less open than Massachusetts wanted, a good deal less open than the OpenDoc license? What were Microsoft’s motivations?

    Maybe you don’t know. You are a techy, you don’t make these sorts of decisions. But at least address the issue.

  23. Pablo says:

    …just who do you think you’re fooling? Your name is on the patent, and you don’t know how it’s licensed? Do you know how the royalties will be distributed?

    You say you get confused about the license and you haven’t thoroughly read it, but you are still going to assure me that it’s open? Perhaps I can simplify some effects of the license: Suppose I want to write a program that can read a document in the MSXML format without being bound to royalty payments. I can.

    Suppose I want to write a program that can write to the MSXML format without paying Microsoft royalties. I can’t.

    As an inventor listed on the patent, you have millions of reasons to dance around the license issues. So dance all you want, you aren’t fooling anyone.

  24. orcmid says:

    Eduardo, thanks for your last two posts. I finally got it. Here’s what I see.

    1. Brian has already said he is awkward about licenses and he basically relies on what leads he finds in Microsoft public materials and elsewhere. I also assume that he is reluctant to be placed as a spokesperson on the topic when, as he has said, he doesn’t have the expertise nor is it his area of responsibility. If I was Brian I would not want to be commenting on Microsoft IP policy.

    2. I think he has done well in saying, as a member of the Office development team, what they are trying to do with it and what they think they’ve done and what it makes possible for his team as developers and for what they are out to provide for customers.

    3. I, on the other hand, am not so inhibited.

    4. It is my considered opinion (not as an officer of any court anywhere) that the copyright licenses on the Microsoft Open Office XML specs. and schemas are near indistinguishable from the same for the OASIS Open Document specification and schema. There are trivial differences and Microsoft’s license statement is clear and understandable and recorded in the schemas and on the documents. For OASIS, you have to look around a bit to know what the copyright status is (other than jointly copyright by Sun and OASIS) and whether anything at all is licensed. I suggest that if this is material to you, consult a lawyer with expertise in this area.

    5. It is the same considered opinion of mine that the Microsoft Royalty-Free license for essential/necessary claims (I never remember which term is theirs, and I can’t tell them apart anyhow) in the processing (access or creation) of Office XML formats is indistinguishable from the updated declaration that Sun just added to the OASIS IPR statement for OASIS Open Document. The fundamental difference is that the Microsoft license is not reciprocal (something that should make competitors more willing to use the format) and that explicit notice is required. Again, sharp and clear, from my perspective. And the recommendation to consult a lawyer stands here too. And I don’t really give a hoot that this gives Richard Stallman apoplexy. He isn’t going to use it anyhow.

    6. Now, a number of assurances have been requested from Microsoft on this and related threads. One has to do with any future versions of the Open Office XML specifications (and, I suppose, the default formats in Microsoft Office out to version 90 or so). But here’s the thing …

    7. You aren’t going to accept any assurance because you’re not willing to trust Microsoft at all, and there’s no iron-clad way to make this work without trust. No matter what declaration is made, the bar will be raised because there’s alway something to be distrustful about if that’s the starting point. Business people and nations, when they hammer these things out, start from areas of trust and agreement and find ways to build out from there. *That’s* what "trust but verify" means.

    8. What does that leave. Well, you have assurances by people doing the work, loving the work, and committed to the work about what their dreams have been, how long they’ve been working at it, where they are now, and where they intend to go. It doesn’t get any better than that, chum.

    9. But the only way you’ll have evidence that this is a seriously-intended effort is over time. Maybe not then, because there’s plenty of evidence that this effort is sustained and an ongoing one already. But give it time if that’s what you need. I don’t think there is *any* license liberalization that will satisfy you in place of that, because it’s not about the license terms at all, it’s about trust.

    10. Yes, sometimes there are bug incompatibilities between versions. I had an Office service pack mess up drawings that were perfectly fine in PowerPoint before then, in the same version of Office. I don’t believe for a minute that was a malicious act. Vexing and disappointing, but MSFT developers allow stupid things to happen too. There are lots of incoherence issues in the suite with the same thing done in different components getting different results, things like that.

    11. Which brings me to two other issues. It is a common fantasy, I think we all do it, that the imagined solution (like the next release every developer dreams of building) is going to be sweeter and smoother and satisfyingly perfect opposed to the reality of the sweat-smeared, greasy, gritty, day-to-day instrument we happen to be using from some uncooperative closed-source behemoth.

    12. It is really a cheap shot (and a tremendous dose of magical thinking) to say that OASIS Open Office is good enough and that it should be easy for Microsoft to adopt it as a format because it is a proven standard. It is abject foolishness to think that 10% (dare I say 2%) of the OASIS member organizations read this specification and actually tested it with regard to implementation soundness. Horse pucky. It is an immature specification with immature implementations and it will take serious work to establish and confirm interoperability.

    13. Furthermore, I will claim here and now that the MA policy is a political decision, probably with the promise of saving lots of money, that shows little standards savvy and as much technical blindness and process incompetence as the recent FBI Systems fiasco. I don’t want to bring this up on the other thread but it belongs somewhere:

    14. Do you mean to tell me that MA decreed OASIS Open Document when there is no agreed specification for formulae in the spreadsheets? And this is going to get people to take Excel off their computers? What other elements that are critical for interchange of documents in practical use have been left to possible specification later?

    15. Did this really happen? I’m flabbergasted. Actually, I can’t believe it. I can’t wait to read tomorrow’s SunMink announcement that this is all FUD. And the lame apologies by committee spokespeople about it being out of scope: What air are those guys breathing? It will take something like a WS-I for office documents to sort this all out, if there are craters like that in the specification.

    16. Meanwhile, Brian and his team are doing exactly what they need to do: The real heavy lifting to create a workable, stable, open format for their product and their customers and anyone else who wants to play with the licensed format — yes, as defined and controlled by Microsoft. Maybe they can create an Office Open Development Council or something, like Java, and we can all chime in [;<). But I would never forgive them for parading it out for jerks like me to vote on. I think their hunger for satisfying customers will work just fine, and opening up under XML is really the perfect thing that XML, namespaces, and all of that bother are perfect for. Private standards in public use.

    17. The other thing that is great is that with the Office 2003 XML capabilities (available now under the same licenses), there is all sorts of cool stuff for business integration that other people are already using and the MSFT team is providing great examples for. It is all done with the XML stack and goodies that have been developing and stabilizing for several years. Like XSD and XSLT.

    18. Oh, by the way, where’s there an XSD for OASIS Open Document formats? Who’s doing one? Oh, that’s right, they took the purist high ground and used Relax-NG, a non-W3C effort that has an odd standards history and is really good work by some very sharp guys. But it doesn’t have lots of toolsets, transformation systems built into every modern browser, and protocol stacks of every conceivable complexion. The XSD/XSLT/yadda-yadda W3C stack and the other pieces are the only matured system, that I know of, fully ready for rock-and-roll and integration into every web service application under the sun (oh, uh, under the moon). Today. Now. On this planet.

    19. I don’t know whether Microsoft techies turn their noses up at XSD, but they did the right thing and adopted the at-the-time only industry-standardized approach developed with a lot of mutual sweat. Go figure. And now they can deploy stuff using mature tools and just wail. Who would have thought it, aye?

    20. I figure it will only get better. So let’s leave Brian and folks to do the work and we get to see how it all turns out. And we can use it. Yes we can. Now, later, we can use it. Yummy.

    Next thing you know, I’ll be rooting for the Yankees too.

    …. Nah.

  25. orcmid says:

    Gee, it’s nice that Brian left all this chalk lying around while moving on to the kind of topic he really wants to address …

    1. Pablo, I think you’re making things up. It would be quite unusual for an inventor of a patent owned by a large corporate employer to have anything to do with the management of the licensing of that invention. And likewise having anything to do with externally paid royalties. I don’t mean that Microsoft employees don’t receive awards for successful patents of their inventions, I would assume that they do. But that’s a different deal.

    2. Now about reading the Microsoft Open Office XML formats and not being able to write them. Where do you see that? I’m looking at

    2.1 It says, in the first paragraph, "The purpose of this document is to provide a patent license to individuals and organizations interested in implementing software programs that can read and write files that conform to such specifications."

    2.2 A little farther down it says "Except as provided below, Microsoft hereby grants you a royalty-free license under Microsoft’s Necessary Claims to make, use, sell, offer to sell, import, and otherwise distribute Licensed Implementations solely for the purpose of reading and writing files that comply with the Microsoft specifications for the Office Schemas."

    2.3 Where does it say no writing?

  26. orcmid says:

    I had this nagging thought as I went to sleep last night, so I checked it out this morning.

    1. There is a very big deal in the new Sun IPR Statement around the OASIS Open Document specification.

    1.1 Yesterday in a long note I said, "5. It is the same considered opinion of mine that the Microsoft Royalty-Free license for essential/necessary claims (I never remember which term is theirs, and I can’t tell them apart anyhow) in the processing (access or creation) of Office XML formats is indistinguishable from the updated declaration that Sun just added to the OASIS IPR statement for OASIS Open Document. …"

    1.2 Well, wait a minute. The new Sun IPR statement (they call it a Patent Statement) has a bigger difference and I stepped over it. The Sun statement is no longer predicated on essential claims (the language used at OASIS). It doesn’t matter whether or not there is a workaround to avoid the patent, so long as your software is processing OASIS Open Document format, Sun promises not to press any patent claim it might have, period. That, for open source developers and others is a big deal.

    1.3 The reciprocity condition still applies (and only bothers people who have patents of their own). The removal of the essential claims condition is a very big deal. Now, all bets are still off if you happen to use some of Sun’s IP in processing something else, but that’s not new news for any of these IPR statements.

    1.4 So, when I said this was good work, I understated the situation. Nice job, Sun.

    2. I also think I know how it might be easy to misread the Microsoft Royalty-Free Patent License as restricting writing.

    2.1 There is a *supplemental* statement at the end that confirms that a *more* *reading* case applies in the case of government documents and public records.

    2.2 This is not a less writing condition, it is an effort to make explicit that a particular condition that pertains to public records is not limited by this license. So, this helpful insertion turns into a stumbling block.

    2.3 I may be off on the precise interpretation of this, but it is clear this says nothing that means no writing. It is definitely a more-reading special case.

  27. orcmid says:

    David Berlind, at ZDnet has provided a nice column on the new license and tied it to the discussions over here:

    From my perspective, it is a pretty balanced piece. In particular, David seems careful to avoid suggesting that any confusion in wrestling with and discussing this topic is malicious. I don’t think it is, I think it is our working to build an understanding of the situation and the unfamiliar territory of licenses and intellectual-property legalities.

    I recommend the piece.

  28. Craig Ringer says:

    Thankyou for the writing you’ve done here. It’s been interesting to read. I often suspect that many of the wild conspiracy theories would never have really got started if the folks on the ground and doing the work had been able to communicate with the public like this earlier. In particular, seeing the background behind what drove many of the moves made in Office’s history is very interesting.

    I’m sorry for all the bad manners you’ve been the target of here. In your own weblog, no less. Having got my own fair share of nastygrams when disagreeing with the popular opinion in a few situations, I may have some idea how you feel. I do think it’s important to remember that the rude and the crazed-seeming folks aren’t in the majority, though, even of those with viewpoints somewhat akin to theirs. I will never understand why some people think that angry accusations and abuse will help convince someone, or achieve anything but alienation and disinterest.

    For those who say that everyone already gets it about XML, I’m really unconvinced. A lot of people seem to see XML as a new format, but don’t really seem to get the way that when used well it lets you /merge/ documents, extend them in ways the main app is unaware of, etc. Real-world examples of that sort of thing are certainly what I’m finding interesting here, anyway.

    I know my boss wouldn’t have a clue what XML even is … yet he has good reasons to care strongly about what these formats, and more importantly the excellent-sounding implementation in Office, have to bring to the table.

    Half of what gets me about this discussion is that the issues in question are relatively minor. Microsoft has made the key moves, and as Brian expressed above the Office folks and MS as a whole have all the motivation they could need to keep things going smoothly. They’d have little reason to withdraw the license later, or severely lock down its terms. As such, I just can’t wrap my head around the choices made in the license. I have, however, said all I can usefully say on the topic, so I’ll just wait and see if anything comes of it or if any of my questions see answers. I’m hardly "entitled", but it’d be nice.

    I’ve spent way more time on this than I ever wanted to. It just seems like I’ve had to try to find clearer ways of expressing myself – that not being my strong point – in the hope I can explain what I’m on about. I figure if I haven’t managed that by now, I never will, and I just hope my comments have been somewhat useful.

    orcmid: Personally, I’m not trying to argue and would not argue that MS should use OpenDocument as their primary format. Frankly, I suspect I’d prefer to work with the MS format from what I’m seeing here.

    Overall, orcmid, I tend to agree with what you’re saying. I do disagree with your claim that the license is fuss-free, and I’ve explained my reasoning in sufficient detail as to bore anyone to death. I need not repeat that here. In my case, I think that the issues are eminently addressable, and that it’s entirely possible to come up with tweaks that would solve all the potential trouble I can see. I think trust is important, but that in this case Microsoft could reinforce that trust more strongly than they are by tweaking their patent licensing choices. As such, I’m all with you except for 5-9 .

    I continue to hope to see the small tweaks that have been discussed here made. If I haven’t said anything convincing about that by now, I never will. Personally, though, I’d like to be able to use the MS Office XML formats in the main software I work on, and that doesn’t currently look possible. That’ll be disappointing, since the barrier is really such a technicality. At least I’ll be able to use them in other work I do, such as the information management setup at work.

  29. Craig Ringer says:

    Actually, I do have one last thing to add. Orcmid, I think you missed the point on sublicensing. Naturally, nobody would ever give the rights to sublicense patent rights under terms of the licensee’s choice. The sublicense rights that have been discussed here are simply the right to grant to another the same licence that was granted to you. For a license that’s perpetual anyway, and should presumably be available forever, this seems pretty trivial. It would not even really necessary if the license simply *said* it’d be available forever under the same terms.

    It all seems such a minor sticking point (though one that it wouldn’t hurt to have resolved, as I’ve tried to explain earlier).

    I also think you’re mistaken about the GPL not getting in the way of the use of this patent license. The sticking point is really section 7. It could be argued that you’re not obliged to be able to guarantee that the required patent license always be available – you just can’t distribute the program anymore if it becomes unavailable and specific claims are asserted, even though you yourself still have a valid patent license. The rights display clause looks like more of a problem, in that it imposes additional requirements you’re not able to impose in turn on your licensees.

    It seems an even sillier sticking point to be held up on, more’s the pity. I didn’t even choose the license for the software I’m particularly interested in supporting these formats with.

    Oh well. I hope the Office team keeps up with the interesting and really useful-looking work, and I’ll continue to hope that these things – that I see as issues – might get sorted out in the future.

  30. orcmid says:

    Thanks Craig, that clears up a lot.

    I agree that the patent license can be simplified in ways that would make it all that much easier. I think Sun’s approach might be a good stimulant to that.

    I know for me as a developer, it makes my life less worrisome, and it gives me a simpler way to share my work with others. (I think I would still include notice, because it reminds people about the limitation to particular use that still live in these licenses.)

    I don’t think the GPL works the way you see it, but it’s hardly a showstopper. Neither the OASIS Open Document specs nor the Microsoft Open Office XML Reference Schemas permit derivative works of the specs or the schemas to be created and distributed (although there is a limited exception for writing guides and tutorials about Open Document), so that’s sticky regardless of whether GPL section 7 applies here.

    That really doesn’t limit the writing of software that uses the format (and it prevents forking the format, which I imagine is part of the reason for the limitations), and I expect there’ll be enough for people seriously interested in doing so to use either and both formats.

    But those are details. I agree the direction is positive and there is more experience and practice to have over time.

  31. orcmid says:

    Man, I looked at that stuff way too quickly.

    1. On the new Sun Patent Statement for the Open Document Format. They took out reciprocity too. Now there is a standard defensive clause, basically identical to the one in the Microsoft Royalty-Free license.

    2. And, as long as I’m here, I need to clear up something else with Craig (I would e-mail Craig, but I’m not sure how to do it). I didn’t mean to suggest that Craig wanted Office to use ODF as its default. I was going on about claims I encounter that it should be easy to support ODF and, as some imply, have roundtrip fidelity. There are people who claim Microsoft should simply go native with ODF, and I find that clueless. I am not aware of Craig suggesting anything like that.

    I wasn’t thinking of Craig in my comments about any of that.

  32. Eduardo says:

    Orcmid, I am responding to your post that started, "Eduardo, thanks for your last two posts."

    On the problems with the Office XML license, see this post by Marbux, who is a retired corporate lawyer, esp part 4.

    I have read that Massachusetts was influenced by this article. Note that Microsoft has not published a reply by its lawyers, but instead we have from it Brian, who admits he is not an expert on these things.

    On the issue of trust, you say, "What does that leave. Well, you have assurances by people doing the work, loving the work, and committed to the work about what their dreams have been, how long they’ve been working at it, where they are now, and where they intend to go. It doesn’t get any better than that, chum."

    The problem with this argument is that the people who are doing the work and love it, like

    Brian, are not the ones making the business and legal decisions, like the license terms. That is why Brian can’t explain the license: he wasn’t involved in decision-making behind it. The people making the decisions are the higher ups, and indeed this is such an important matter that I am sure Ballmer and Gates are making the final decision.

    I mistrust them for two reasons. One, Microsoft has a history of behaving in a highly untrustworthy manner. Second, Microsoft’s extremely strong and profitable position in computing is dependent on lock-in tactics, and so I expect that they will continue to pursue them, albeit in a disguised manner.

    And note that one dirty trick Microsoft has used in the past is to start truly open, suck people in to the point where it would be very time-consuming and expensive to get out, and then make things closed. An example is

    Kerberos. In fact, this tactic is so central for Microsoft that it has a name for it: "extend, embrace, extinguish."

    On the other hand, open source and open standards groups don’t screw their customers with lock-in tactics.

    So it does come down to trust. Orcmid, looking at Microsoft’s past history, and also its motivations for keeping people locked into propriatary formats, and comparing this with open source and open standards organizations, can you really say the two are equally trustworthy?

  33. Craig Ringer says:

    Thanks for your comment orcmid. You’re right in that I’ve never thought MS should natively adopt OpenDocument – I don’t see what’s in it for them, and I’m not convinced it’s mature at this point anyway.

    When it comes to the GPL, I never meant to suggest that the patent license should somehow be convertable to the GPL. My concern is solely with software that wishes to implement the formats. There, I don’t think you’re right that it’s a non-issue – I suspect the notice clause will cause a problem, namely additional restrictions on distribution. I’d personally want to add it anyway – credit where credit’s due – but it’d be nice if the license said "should" not "must", or even required the inclusion unless prevented by other licensing requirements. I do think that as expressed above I was mistaken in my earlier concern about sublicensing re GPL compatibility. I still think it’s well worth resolving, but I don’t think it prevents a barrier to implementations under the GPL as I initially thought it did.

    I certainly understand the strong desire to retain control of the format. I’d be worried if it was any other way. PDF and OpenDocument are the same, in that the rights to implement the formats and use any associated patents are open to all comers, but the copyright on the specification its self is much more restrictive. I would be very uncomfortable if I needed to work with a spec where anybody could modify it and release it as an "official" version – "PDF 1.99, Joe Average’s release". No, thanks. Trademark protection on the specification or format name would help, but even so I just don’t see the point in letting others make their own versions of the specification its self.

    As for mail, if anyone wants to mail me I can be reached at . The address is, alas, already all over the Internet, so there’s hardly any point in hiding it.

  34. orcmid says:

    Thanks Eduardo, I read the Groklaw material that you recommended.

    I have already presented my analysis about the "no writing" assumption in an earlier response. I believe the lawyer took the passage completely out of context, and even then it doesn’t say no writing. In the context of the overall license, I take that supplementary clarification as identifying a "more-reading" case that arises in conjunction with government operations and public records.

    I thought the lawyer’s advice about how this works when one is working on licenses between parties was pretty great. When someone provides a nonexclusive blanket license in advance, things don’t quite go so nicely.

    I am also not making an argument that one organization is more trustworthy or equally trustworthy to another. I said that there is nothing that Microsoft can do to satisfy you unless there is a basis in trust to satisfy you or anyone else who starts from a position of distrust. I’m also not asking you to change your point of view.

    Finally, comparing Microsoft with a so-called standards organization doesn’t do much. They don’t need to be trusted for the same things. OASIS doesn’t deliver, support, and maintain running code.

    If OASIS did a verification/conformance suite on the format, that would be cool though. We are going to miss there being one of those. Real soon now.

  35. orcmid says:

    The conversation with Eduardo got me thinking about distrust and how it is a non-starter. Here’s a thought-experiment (you can try it on yourself for real, based on your level of distrust of Microsoft or of X).

    Suppose you distrust X.

    Now, state a condition of satisfaction, S, that if X were to promise to satisfy it by some certain point in the future, say T of 12 months, you would be willing to conditionally trust X to perform that and withhold judgment until T arrived. And you have to hold yourself to it. That is, you have to be trustworthy not to change the rules.

    Depending on the outcome, you might enter into a new condition, one involving more or less trust depending on what happened.

    Life will happen and you may have to adjust this in reality as events transpire, but lets assume starting out that both you and X will do your best in that regard. That’s part of the deal.

    OK, what is it the *least* very specific and limited S you would be willing to commit to being satisfied with and be willing to conditionally trust X to perform if they accepted your conditions?

    I think this is an instructive exercise. I think that the higher the barrier to X’s performance S is, the greater is the distrust you harbor, and your denial of X an opportunity to build trust with you.

    That’s my theory. You can write to me about it.

  36. Proforma says:

    I love Open source software and I think it can be a good thing, but I clearly see what is going on with this.

    Some of the people on here want something like MS Office, they don’t have a job or don’t want to spend the money and they don’t want to pirate software and they want to use other OS’s that are free because of the same issues and what they really want is for Microsoft to suffer so that when they open their formats an Open Source alternative can come out for free with these Microsoft formats and then nobody would buy MSOFFICE and only have the free alternative available.

    It’s the same no good for nothing liberal knobjobs that are for this for the above reason.

    I love Open source, if we didn’t have it we wouldn’t have MAME, DOSBOX or Apache.

    However, let’s call it like it is.

  37. ima_sudonem says:

    It’s sometimes truly amazing to see large organizations that stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the truth that’s in plain sight right under their noses. It’s kind of like watching nervous Hummer salesmen perched like a group of vultures in their dealership driveway, waiting to pounce on customers who aren’t there because they’re all at the Toyota dealer across the street, buying Prius’s.

  38. Ralph says:

    To BrianJones:

    I hope you don’t think I was being rude. I did not mean to be. But, I certainly am skeptical. If someone says something incredible, then I don’t see why they should be surprised at skepticism. I was not getting Word documents in the early 90’s by email. But, I and an awful lot of very untechnically oriented people were using BBS’s and exchanging documents. That went back to the early 80s for me.

    Thank you for having this dialog. I hope both side get some sense knocked into them.

    To orcmid:

    Trust is like that. I don’t see any special treatment for or against Microsoft here. When Microsoft has lied so often in the past, it should not be surprising that people doubt the veracity of their statements.

    I see a license that is more difficult to read than it should be. It hides terms in places I can’t read, and then it spells out that a program to read would clearly be licensed. What about a program to write? If they really wanted to be open, that could just as easily said read or write. But they did not, and the doubt continue.

    Having read a number of Microsoft licenses(I read EVERY license before I agree to it), I know Microsoft has a history of legalese that seems intended to keep unreasonable rights for themselves. Only their monoploy position has allowed those to stand. If the markets were competitive, an alternate provider could take away substantial market share, just based on licenses. So, I see a Microsoft license that appears to grant me the rights to write a program to read and write their format. But, if I want to distribute my program there is no certitude that the people who get my program will be licensed to use it. And if my program does something Microsoft does not like. I expect them to claim that my program does not properly implement and coerce me to withdraw it. I envision some specific utilities that users would appreciate, but Microsoft probably would not. I can’t even readily read the schemas, because they are not published in a way that any of my operating systems can read. I have 2 Windows 2000 machines, but I can’t take them past SP1 due to the crippling effects of later fixes. Adobe publishes the PDF spec quite openly and does not require that I use an Adobe product to read it. OASIS publishes their spec openly. I think I see a pattern here. So, why, based on what I do see, would I believe that the formats are open?

    If Microsoft is being honest here, as they may be, then it will help regain trust. But, just as it took time to lose that trust, it will take time to regain it.

    At times, I wish I had not switched from Microsoft OSes and office products. But Microsoft forced me to leave because of their obnoxious terms and behaviour(It was never the money, for me). Since I can’t in good conscience install any current Microsoft products, I use Linux. And I run into more and more people who switch for the same reasons. If you really want to stop driving customers away, then do this right.

  39. BrianJones says:

    Hey Ralph, you should be able to get a ZIP version of the Office "12" schema previews here:

    Hopefully that will work for you.

    I also wanted to apologize to folks for getting a bit aggressive towards the end of this post. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done over the years to open up the Office formats, and I got a bit frustrated with all the politics. Happens to everyone I guess. 🙂


  40. occasional developer and power user says:

    Brian, now really after three pages of people pointing you to the places you clearly disseminate FUD in your own blog, when will you stop and reconsider?

    Will you answer the real questions posed to you in a complete and clear manner? It is relevant for your business and customers because OOo and the OpenDocument Standard is a direct competitor to your product. You should stop being in denial about OOo et al. and pitch at least against it clearly.

    If you won’t answer clearly and completely, but instead keep FUDing, it’s either you are incompetent or malevolent to the audience here.

  41. BrianJones says:

    Thanks for the comments "occasional developer and power user", and I hope you don’t take offense to this, but it really does dissapoint me that some folks here are using the term FUD every time I raise an issue that they don’t agree with. I’m not saying that’s what you’re doing necessarily, it’s just that the term FUD is used to such a ridiculous level at this point it’s hard to really give it any weight. Is that a common practice now that some folks just dismiss questions they don’t like as being FUD? Every question I’ve asked has been based on a lack of clear information. People have been upset about our licenses, but when I went to find the licensing information behind PDF and OpenDocument there was definitely a lack of clarity (to say the least). Since I asked those questions the OpenDocument folks provided some updated documentation that appears to be much more clear, so that’s good. Just because I was trying to better understand the situation doesn’t mean I was spreading FUD.

    I’ve already been really clear on why we can’t use OpenDocument for our default format. I think most people out there understand that. Our customers would not stand for it. We need to fully support all their existing documents. Remember also, that when I say customers, I’m not necessarily referring to all of you reading my blog. We have a huge customer base (400 million users), and I would say less than half a percent of those folks probably know anything about OpenDocument. If their documents started behaving oddly because we’d moved to a format that was still undergoing changes and did not fully represent everything in their documents, that would just be unacceptable.

    Some folks are wondering though why we don’t provide it as an option format. That really just comes back to this issue of there not being a lot of customer demand. I know that will upset a lot of folks reading my blog but you need to understand the difference between newsgroup and blog demand; and actual customer demand. We get asked to do new features all the time. Every major customer has collections of features they come to us with, and we can never do everything. We need to weigh all the requests and decide what we can do that meets the broadest set of requests. How many documents are out there right now in the OpenDocument format? Aside from the commonwealth of Mass. and a handful of blogs I haven’t heard anyone that thinks it’s important for us to support OpenDocument. All of the scenarios folks have around XML are more than met with the Office XML formats in combination with customer defined schema support.

    Some people seem to be under the impression that we’re somehow doing work to *not* support OpenDocument. Anyone who works on software would know that it’s a lot of work to build in support for a format, and even more work to maintain that. We have this with the WordPerfect converters for instance. There were a lot of WordPerfect documents out there when we built that feature, that’s why we built it. It was something that we had to do in order to get people to buy our product (just like OpenOffice has to support the Office binary formats today). If there hadn’t been that demand though, we wouldn’t have built it. If at some point there is a lot of customer demand and there are a lot of documents out there in the OpenDocument format, then I wouldn’t be surprised if we built support for it.

    That gets me to my last point which I’ve raised a number of times. Office is a very extensible tool. Anyone can come along and build an add-in to support OpenDocument. If there is enough demand, that will happen.


  42. occasional developer and power user says:

    Brian, if I write this, it’s because I like you keeping coming.

    Now, it is understandable, that you say your company is doing what it’s customers demand most. (I wonder if they did ask that often for IE in the year 1995 or for the media player later 🙂

    But you see, the question is not, if 99% of your customer base need OpenDocument, it is if Microsoft is willing to show to the public a document format, that can be used freely by everybody (any software vendor too), and thus be acceptable for educated choice of the public authorities.

    This is how it works – you design a patent encumbered format with unknown licensing future, and it gets denied by Mass. because it is not what is required for public good. Instead, OpenDocument is being chosen.

    Your concerns about OpenDocument were clarified in a few days time. And this is how information sharing works.

    On the other hand FUD is what you say to explain why it is not so.

    You see what you are missing now in your picture?

  43. Links to blog posts that contain useful technical information for developers.  Open XML is a new standard, but there’s some good information already available if you know where to look.

  44. comments faire pour avoir publischer alors que je l’ai sur mon


  45. de l’aide pour avoir sur mon pc le. MS office 11

  46. As we move forward with the standardization of the Office Open XML formats, it’s interesting to look…

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