Office Docs and Open


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.


 


Comments (6)

  1. Joseph says:

    I’m not naive enought to think the MA decision has nothing to do with this. Anyway, I don’t believe ECMA would be good enough for MA because of RAND issues.

  2. Wesley Parish says:

    I’ve just been browsing http://opendocumentfellowship.org/Articles/TechnicalComparison and am trying to work out why MS Office 12’s XML would interest me. The comparison between MS Office 2003’s XML and ODF would’ve made me a devotee of ODF on the grounds of simple and efficient implementation alone; that ODF is based on the OpenOffice.org’s SX? file format and thus has had about four years of cross-platform use is thus merely the cherry-on-top.

    Of course, that ODF has had several years of actual cross-platform use in comparison to MS Office 12 XML’s 12 months still to go before it’s gold, does have a certain part to play. I don’t like vapourware any more than the next man does; and I remember when MS WinNT was "Not There" in comparison to OS/2’s rather real existence. Vapourware occludes the vista, I find; and as a child on planes flying through some of the toughest mountain terrain in the world, I learnt about rocks hiding in clouds, thankfully not from experience.

    ODF’s here and now; I would like to think Microsoft can see _some_ sense in eschewing vapourware before it learns the hard way.

  3. Peter C. says:

    <p>A standard is only as open as the license (if any) that covers its use. As long as the Office "12" XML file formats <href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDocument#Licensing">closed and non-interoperable</href>, your approach may be royalty-free, but it’s not open.</p><p>Here’s the new reality I find myself in as an IS director. I’ve come into an environment where there is no upgrade path for our current desktop software; therefore, I have an almost unrestricted freedom of choice when it comes to replacing that software. Why, then, would I choose to lock that environment into a closed, proprietary, single-vendor solution when if, by choosing products that adhere to open, multi-vendor standards, I can guarantee that I’ll be able to select products and vendors based on quality, support, and price instead of compatibility with particular proprietary standards?</p>

  4. Goebbels says:

    "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."

    I don’t see how this explains this at all. You give two events. Say they are unrelated. There is no argument to it, no logic.

    So you released the schema 2 years ago. So what? An XML schema does not allow an app developer to read and write Office documents. Nevermind the patent and licensing issues.

    This is exactly why Massachusetts didn’t except your lame arguments in the first place. This is a non-argument.

    You conclude by simple stating: it had nothing to do with it. Sorry, we don’t buy it. Otherwise, why were you so resistent to doing these very things in over a year of negotiations with Massachusetts?

  5. Ole Andersen says:

    "[…]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."

    Baah. I was present when they were submitted to the infrastructuredatabase in Denmark in 2003, which was the key event in that regard. Not soon after, your lawyers had to admit that; No, you will NOT be able to use the specs in connection with the most important and most used Open Source Licenses. OpenOffice in particular is barred from implementing them. So much for favorable terms. Unless that by "implementers" you mean those who have signed away a ton of rights to MS and NOT all those costumers, that still misses action from MS in the field.

    A natural extension of that event will be to see if OpenOffice can implement the specs under the new terms. And how implementers are situated if MS changes the specs in the future.

    I personally look forward to seeing if i am allowed to make a gpl-based application that automatically can scan my costumers networks for MS-Office documents and convert them to Openoffice equivalents.

    And my final speculation goes on the old document-specs. The way i see it, MS is also doing this move, so they can leverage the enormeous body of OLD Office-documents. Unless MS loosens the straightjacket on those as well. But you wouldn’t, would you? Even in the event that they were no longer the primary format in MS-Office…

  6. When something’s written in OpenDocument, it’s going to be readable and writable across time and vendor implementations.