Today Microsoft announced the intent to submit the Office “12” XML file formats to Ecma International to become an open standard. I’m guessing there might be more than 5 articles written about it and maybe even a few bloggers will post. Is it really worth all of the attention it will get? Yes.
The obvious first take on this submission will be all about Massachussets and whether or not we were “made” to do this by them. The real story is no we were not. The concerns raised in MA are important as is our relationship with them, but it is important to remember that 2 years ago this month we made the Office 2003 XML Reference Schema available under extremely favorable terms for implementers. The discussions around the State of MA unquetionably put a fine point on the discussions about the future of how document formats were handled, but they were not the direct catalyst of this action on our part.
The second take is on how will it be licensed. We are offering a broad “convenant not to sue” to anyone who uses our formats. This is a new addition for us to our open and royalty-free approach that begun with the Office 2003 XML Reference Schema. The terms of this submission should be broadly appealing to developers of all stripes. It is important to separate this type of license from the source code licenses I annouced a few weeks ago in Europe. Those were source code licenses, the issues around an open standard and its licensing are different.
The third take is how this will affect customers. The most important fact is that customers with heaps and heaps of documents will be able to carry them forward into the future in such a way that archival questions will not be about if you can get to the doc legally, rather how you will get to them technically. Office has always presented an interesting challenge in this arena as the intellectual property of Office is owned by Microsoft whereas the documents created by the user in Office are owned by the user. The submission to Ecma will make this particular dichotomy a bit easier to navigate.
The fourth take is how this will affect partners. I think that it is premature for a simpleton like me to speculate on the breadth of reach that this announcement has on partners. The one point I will make is that provided the submission ultimately becomes an open standard it will enable multiple competing implementations of the spec. That means that economic opportunity will be created for potentially thousands of ISVs to do interesting things with the technology. All good from my perspective.
I’m looking forward to the ongoing discussion about this topic.