decoration decoration

When you want to know more...
For layout only
Site Map
About Groklaw
Legal Research
ApplevSamsung p.2
Cast: Lawyers
Comes v. MS
Gordon v MS
IV v. Google
Legal Docs
MS Litigations
News Picks
Novell v. MS
Novell-MS Deal
OOXML Appeals
Quote Database
Red Hat v SCO
Salus Book
SCEA v Hotz
SCO Appeals
SCO Bankruptcy
SCO Financials
SCO Overview
SCO v Novell
Sean Daly
Software Patents
Switch to Linux
Unix Books
Your contributions keep Groklaw going.
To donate to Groklaw 2.0:

Groklaw Gear

Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

Contact PJ

Click here to email PJ. You won't find me on Facebook Donate Paypal

User Functions



Don't have an account yet? Sign up as a New User

No Legal Advice

The information on Groklaw is not intended to constitute legal advice. While Mark is a lawyer and he has asked other lawyers and law students to contribute articles, all of these articles are offered to help educate, not to provide specific legal advice. They are not your lawyers.

Here's Groklaw's comments policy.

What's New

No new stories

COMMENTS last 48 hrs
No new comments


hosted by ibiblio

On servers donated to ibiblio by AMD.

The Jan. 14th Eric Kriss Speech on Open Formats -- Transcript and Audio
Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 03:27 PM EST

Eric Kriss, Secretary for the Executive Office of the Administration of Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has kindly given us permission to share with you audio of his recent speech on Open Formats, which we earlier reported. It was Dan Bricklin who made the mp3 and was nice enough to let us have it, and I've also morphed it into Ogg format. And that brings me to my reason for sharing this transcript and audio. It turns out that the current list of formats that qualify for Massachusetts government public documents use is just the beginning. Next month, they will be releasing an amplified list.

If I were going to add to the list, I think I'd point out two things: one, that when there are video and audio files, it's important that GNU/Linux users not be excluded and that for many, that means they'd like to be able to use the natural and free applications that come with and/or match best that operating system, such as Ogg Vorbis for audio.

And second, I would hope that the handicapped would be considered. For the blind, as I've learned from doing Groklaw, that means that PDF files also be made available in plain text, so speech applications can read documents to them. And for the deaf, it means that audio and video files have transcripts in plain text made available. Personally, if I were doing it, I'd use plain text for everything, no matter what other formats I also made a document available in, for the same reasons Project Gutenberg does:

File Formats. Whenever possible, Project Gutenberg distributes a plain text version of an eBook. Other formats, such as HTML, XML, RTF, and others are also welcome, but plain text is the "lowest common denominator." We stress the inclusion of plain text because of its longevity: Project Gutenberg includes numerous text files that are 20-30 years old. In that time, dozens of widely used file formats have come and gone. Text is accessible on all computers, and is also insurance against future obsolescence.

My other concern is that when a definition of Open Formats says it must be nondiscriminatory, it means specifically that no license include requirements that conflict with the General Public License. The SenderID flap comes to mind, and this is a good time to let you know that there are now transcripts of the FTC's Email Authentication Summit of last November 9 and 10 available in PDF format.

I would hope if Microsoft does follow up on changing their license for XML, as they have told Massachusetts they will, that they rewrite it to make sure that it does not conflict with the GPL. If they do that, I'll surely write poetry in praise of Microsoft. A haiku, at a minimum.

Here is a transcript of the speech. It wasn't until I did the transcript that I fully understood that Microsoft has been exiled from public documents by the state of Massachusetts unless they change their exclusionary license. Thank you, Massachusetts.

I'd also recommend the following references:

  • Lawrence Rosen's Letter to the FTC on Open Standards and precisely how Microsoft's Sender ID patent license terms conflict with the GPL, text and PDF
  • David Wheeler's Why Open Source Software/Free Software? Look at the Numbers!", which has recently been updated, here
  • Bruce Perens' The Problem of Sofware Patents and Standards

So, speak now, Groklaw, if you have suggestions, or forever hold your peace. If you have already commented on the earlier article, feel free to reference your earlier comments or to repeat your suggestions. I'll be making a collection of the most thoughtful comments to forward to Mr. Kriss. Here is the transcript to get you thinking.


DAN BRICKLIN: We're running a little behind, so if you would all open up and take out your, the thing that tells you what Eric's background is [laughter], you'll see that it's also on the website and you also know, if you go to the website, that he's only one click away from the Governor, which is pretty heavy-duty. He also used to be a Software Council member. We're really happy that he chose the Software Council as the place to go to discuss stuff. Last time, he spoke to some of us, he talked about the Open Source and Open Standards initiatives, which shook up the industry a lot. It shows how they're trying to move along in ways that John [Landrey - previous speaker] talked about and others, and take advantage of it to the benefit of us in the Commonwealth

So it's my pleasure to welcome Eric Kriss, former Council member and the Secretary for the Executive Office of the Administration of Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, here to speak to us this morning. Eric.

ERIS KRISS: Thank you, Dan. And I want to thank Joyce for allowing me to spend a couple of minutes with you in the middle of what I know is a very busy program, and I will make my comments brief. And hopefully they will be of interest to you.

It was exactly a year ago that we first launched the Open Standards policy. It was actually January the 13th, 2004, which set out for state government in Massachusetts the way we anticipated planning, developing, and using systems in the future. And those open standards began what is going to be a continual evolutionary process to better define, better understand, and go forward, with not only those of us in state government but obviously with the vendor community and all of you as well.

In light of that, we're ready to extend the concept of Open Standards to the next step or stage. And I'm making an informal announcement today to you. We're looking forward as always to comments -- feedback -- because it's been terrific. One of the best assets that we have is all of you and the tremendous amount of brainpower that resides in this room and in the greater community in the software industry in Massachusetts.

But we are planning to extend the definition of Open Standards to what we are now going to be calling "Open Formats". Open Standards, as you know, are specifications for systems developed by an open community and affirmed by a standards body, and an example for that would be, for example, XML, a method of exchanging data.

Open Formats, as we're thinking about them, and we're trying to be precise with the language, because people use different English words for different technical terms, in our definition, "Open Formats" are specifications for data file formats that are based on an underlying open standard, developed by an open community and affirmed by a standards body; or, de facto format standards controlled by other entities that are fully documented and available for public use under perpetual, royalty-free, and nondiscriminatory terms.

And I will illuminate that a little bit more in a second. An example of an Open Format that we have already characterized is .TXT text files and PDF document formats. And we're going to be promulgating some time next month an additional list.

Let me make a comment as to why we care about this, and I should also say as I launch into this that this effort on the importance for open formats really concerns public records and public documents, and we've done this with full cooperation and collaboration of the Secretary of State of the Commonwealth.

The Secretary of State and I jointly have responsibility for the stuff of government, and he has his own responsibilities and I have mine, but they really overlap quite a bit. And the two of us, in terms of our Constitutional and formal offices, really are responsible for overseeing what there is going to be of state government when we look back a hundred years, whether there's going to be anything or not, with respect to the public records aspect of what we do.

It should be reasonably obvious for a lay person who looks at the concept of Public Documents that we've got to keep them independent and free forever, because it is an overriding imperative of the American democratic system that we cannot have our public documents locked up in some kind of proprietary format or locked up in a format that you need to get a proprietary system to use some time in the future.

So, one of the things that we're incredibly focused on is insuring that independent, that public records remain independent of underlying systems and applications, insuring their accessibility over very long periods of time. In the IT business a long period of time is about 18 months. In government it's about 300 years, so we have a slightly different perspective.

Open Formats insure also that there are minimal restrictions imposed on the use of applications needed to access those records and files. And finally, Open Formats support the integrity of public records when we're going to need to do a file conversion as required probably in the course of normal technological evolution. So if we have something in a format of 2005, and it's going to need to be converted in 2038 into something that we've never thought of yet, we need to be able to do that without losing the integrity in the underlying information.

Given the fragmented legal status now of proprietary formats, the Commonwealth will only certify an Open Format designation when minimal legal restrictions exist on the reading and dissemination of government records.

We will increasingly rely on the promulgation of Open Standards for file formats by national and international standards bodies. The Oasis OpenOffice XML format technical community would be one example of that. And our future systems, as we look to the long run future, will require full support of open formats, as well as open standards.

Now, we've published our initial open standards policy as I indicated a year ago. And the latest version, although we're going to be changing the language of the way we describe it, has already indicated that TXT, RTF, HTM, PDF AND XML, to the extent it is used to specify a format, are all open formats.

But what I want to discuss informally today is we have been in a conversation with Microsoft for several months with regard to the patent that they have and the license surrounding their use of XML to specify specifically .DOC files in Microsoft Office 2003.

They have made representations to us recently they are planning to modify that license, and we believe, if they do so in the way that we understand that they have spoken about -- we will leave it obviously to them to describe exactly what they are going to do -- that it is our expectation that when we do issue the next iteration of the standard that, in fact, the Microsoft, what are proprietary formats, will be deemed to be Open Formats because they will no longer have the restrictions on their use they currently have.

That would include potentially, and, again, we need to wait for the final designation of this by Microsoft, it would include Word Processing ML, which is the wrapper around .DOC files, Spreadsheet ML, which is the wrapper around .XLS files and the form template schemas.

Obviously, we are going to be talking to other companies and other entities that may have restrictions around the use of those formats, and we hope to either get them removed or have further conversations so that as we all move forward together in this wonderful evolution of technology, we are going to insure that at least to the government, we will be able to reference something a hundred years from now, and it won't get lost forever.

Thank you very, very much.



The Jan. 14th Eric Kriss Speech on Open Formats -- Transcript and Audio | 108 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
OT and all that
Authored by: overshoot on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 03:38 PM EST
Link 'em, click 'em -- think of the mice!

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Jan. 14th Eric Kriss Speech on Open Formats -- Transcript and Audio
Authored by: nickieh on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 03:42 PM EST
The adoption of open-spec document standards by governments is very bad news for
MS. The trickle-down of govt -> businesses supplying govt -> schools
training for business -> home users adopting "what the kids use at
school" could break the format stranglehold MS-Office holds at present.

The Kriss comments about needing a view past the next upgrade is dead-on. Now
if they could only get it propagated across to the other states and up to the

[ Reply to This | # ]

Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 03:43 PM EST
Now, we've published our initial open standards policy as I indicated a year ago. And the latest version, although we're going to be changing the language of the way we describe it, has already indicated that TXT, RFT, HTM, PDF AND XML, to the extent it is used to specify a format, are all open formats.

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Corrections - Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 10:51 PM EST
  • Corrections - Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 01:02 AM EST
  • Corrections - Authored by: moonbroth on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 02:33 AM EST
  • Corrections - Authored by: Steve Allen on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 10:35 AM EST
  • insure? - Authored by: TerryC on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 01:41 PM EST
  • Corrections - Authored by: brentdax on Sunday, January 23 2005 @ 06:12 AM EST
Tagged PDF for blind people: use 2.0
Authored by: ak on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 03:45 PM EST
For the blind, as I've learned from doing Groklaw, that means that PDF files also be made available in plain text, so speech applications can read documents to them.
The German government guidelines require PDF files published by governmental institutions to be "tagged" so that they can be used by handicapped people. The soon-to-be-released 2.0 supports exporting such tagged PDF files. But I do not know which speech applications can be used with those files.

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Jan. 14th Eric Kriss Speech on Open Formats -- Transcript and Audio
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 03:58 PM EST
Thank you very, very much.

No, Eric, thank you very, very much.


[ Reply to This | # ]

Specs and Compliance
Authored by: overshoot on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 04:00 PM EST
All well and good to have a formal public specification for a file format. I applaud the effort of Mr. Kriss and his colleagues in that regard.

If, however, I may offer a caution from someone who's been in the public-standards business for some while:

A public standard without a conformance test isn't much good. Regardless of what the published specification for (to pick an example) Word-ML may say, the only spec that actually matters is, "Does it work with Microsoft Word?" In other words, the conformance test is the ultimate specification.

If Massachusetts accepts a document format based on published specs and then makes heavy use of a tool that does things its own way, all the "open formats" in the world won't make those documents available to our great-grandchildren.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Looking forwards...
Authored by: Yobgod on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 04:29 PM EST
Just in case we need it, here's a start on that promise. :)

Chrysalis of laws --
Ideas from a green prison
Fly with open wings

[ Reply to This | # ]

MS proprietry formats
Authored by: Nick_UK on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 05:01 PM EST
I cannot see MS doing anything of the sort - this is their
bread and butter, and the operate my like the drug dealer
on the streets... give a little away until the people are
dependant on it, then start charging (or changing, in MS's
case, so it breaks inter-operability with other formats
and they 'gotcha').

MS cannot operate, nor do I think they can conceive an
'open' standard of any sort, because it goes against the
grain of what they do to monopolise.

As I read somewhere else earlier this month, if it wasn't
for the Apache project, I expect 90% of web servers would
be IIS and then everybody would have to use IE to view
content of the web as the standards would have been
changed bastardised to tie everyone in and lock others


[ Reply to This | # ]

Open Formats
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 05:49 PM EST
The Massachusetts realization that closed-source data formats have no place in
government documents is wonderful. It is to be applauded by every citizen in
every jurisdiction, not just in Massachusetts, but world wide.

I don't have access to the actual specifications, so I would like to point out a
few potential loopholes and/or problems, hoping that they have already been

1. Another comment brings up the need for independent comformance testing, so I
won't intrude, except to point out that non-profit and low-profit software
implementors would be kept out of the market if conformance testing were too
costly. Some conformance test suites are available without cost or unnecessary
restrictions (copyright and widespread availability suffice to assure integrity
of the tests). Other conformance testing is proprietary, and is too costly for
use for any implementation that's not highly profitable.

2. The data format of a public-record document must, of course, be freely
available and freely implementable. There must be no licensing, relicensing, or
sublicensing restrictions imposed by the format standard, directly or
indirectly, on any implementation using the format.

3. The data format of a public-record document can become irrelevent in any
case where the document is stored in a filing system that is not at least as
open as the format standard. Even if the format of the content is open, the
document as a whole can become inaccessible by some act of or against the
'proprietor' of filing system.

[All rights in or to this comment are hereby transferred to pj (Pamela Jones),
the mistress of]

--Bill P, not a lawyer. Question the answers, especially if I give some.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Response to Eric Kriss including comments from a previous post.
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 06:01 PM EST
From the earlier post entitled : Eric Kriss, please note: Two points of concern.
The terms and conditions upon which Microsoft is licensing such intellectual property may be found at ice.asp
The problem is these terms can be changed at whim by Microsoft. Please read Ed Foster's Gripeline at Infoworld to understand the implications of having terms controled by a web page. Strongly recommend that any agreement between Microsoft and the State not be depended on terms found on a web page, but terms on hardcopy and signed in person, then posted to a web page.
End of previous post
I am including below the Ed Foster articles I was refering to. It turns out, that the current site for these articles is at My apologies to everyone about saying the article could be found at Infoworld is kind enough to carry Ed Foster's column, which I appreciate. Ed Foster maintains the web site where he kindly maintains an archive of his columns.
What started it was Ed's column where he related a problem with Hilton's web site.
Ed Foster's article where Hilton had a very invasive EULA for using their web site to book a room, even including the right to publish your personal information. Ed updated the article to indicate Hilton had changed the terms. http://www.grip The change in terms prompted another column where Ed Foster discusses the problems with web based legal documents. http://www.grip
Finally I am including a link to an article discussing Microsoft's pratices about accepting their End User License Agreement. Microsoft won't let you see EULA until you open package, then even if you don't agree with the EULA the package can't be returned because it has been opened. http://www.grip
In Summary, please be very very careful when allowing a Microsoft document format to become a standard. It seems obvious to this reader from the last article the company does not care about the people using their software, and their business practices seem to take delight in finding loopholes in contracts they can weasle through.
There was a very clear condition on the Java license that incompatible extensions would not be permitted. Yet Microsoft went ahead and modified the programs the included with their product, making the Microsoft Java machine incompatible with the standard version. It was only after Sun went to court and in a case that took years, got Microsoft to drop the incompatible product. And this was a case where the terms were not just on the web page but in a legally binding contract written on paper and agreed to by Microsoft.
Please forgive me if I sound as if I don't trust Microsoft. I can only go on past experiences.

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Jan. 14th Eric Kriss Speech on Open Formats -- Transcript and Audio
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 06:37 PM EST
Thank you Mr. Kriss,
open formats I believe will bring information together, I mean it has been the
case for me more then once that I can only obtain something in one format, so I
cannot open the file without first having the cost of buying that product to
open the file. Some offer readers for free, but how many readers for how many
formats does one need.

The above reading problem continues for saving files in one format of choice, or
no choice, the problem, at a later date, is try and share them, withouit the
product that created them, I as well as those I wish to share with are limited
and in some cases dead in the water. With open formats, everyone would be able
to save information as well share it without limit.

I talked about reading and saving files in formats, and another problem is being
able to edit as well. Collaboration is a problem with not being able to edit, to
be able to have information shared in a joint work makes for faster results.
Collaboration without format edit restrictions would open the doors for
non-profits, schools and home based business as well as the largest corporations
that need to share information without security restrictions.

Again, Mr. Kriss thank you for all of the hard work you have done, and continue
to do for open formats.

[ Reply to This | # ]

EU stance on open formats
Authored by: m_si_M on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 08:18 PM EST

I just checked the announcement of the EU on open document formats, dated 26 November 2004. Paragraphs with reference to Microsoft are highlighted in bold letters. Is it just me who sees lots of loopholes for Redmond? For instance, only Word is mentioned. What about Excel or Access?

EU's IDA Programme drives progress on open document formats

eGovernment News – 26 November 2004 – EU & Europe-wide – Interoperability

Major software vendors have responded positively to the recommendations on open document formats adopted in May 2004 by the Telematics between Administrations Committee (TAC), which oversees the EU’s Interchange of Data between Administrations (IDA) Programme.

On 25 May 2004, the TAC had endorsed several recommendations designed to promote the use of open document formats by the public sector. In an era when communication between public administrations, as well as between them and citizens and businesses, is increasingly based on electronic documents, the adoption of non-proprietary document formats is indeed essential to ensure that everyone has access to public-sector information and services.

The recommendations suggested that the public sector should review its use of 'revisable documents', and prefer non-revisable formats to ensure better access to public-sector information when possible. When revisable documents are required, the public sector should make use of open, XML-based document formats, such as Microsoft XML reference schemas and The recommendations further placed particular emphasis on increasing standardisation efforts to ensure market access to all industry actors. They encouraged the participation of all industry actors in the Open Office XML Format standardisation process led by the Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), and the submission of the resulting format to an official standardisation organisation such as the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). They also encouraged Microsoft to consider submitting its XML formats to an international standards body of its choice, to issue a public commitment to publish and provide non-discriminatory access to future versions of its XML specifications, and to assess the possibility of excluding non-XML formatted components from WordML documents (WordML is a Word 2003 native XML file format that allows separating the pure XML data from formatting as required).

A few months later, major software vendors have responded positively to these recommendations, enabling significant progress to be made towards widespread adoption of standard open document formats:

  • Sun Microsystems, the provider of Open Office who has been instrumental in the process of standardising the Open Office XML document format in OASIS, welcomed the recommendations and said it would encourage the adoption of the OASIS format as an ISO standard. It also announced that it would shortly release filters providing import and export capabilities to other formats, making them also available for other software vendors.
  • IBM responded to the recommendations stating that it had had informed OASIS of its intention to join the relevant technical committee and that it already had products complying with the existing OASIS draft specification on Open Office XML format.
  • Microsoft also agreed to issue a public commitment to publish and provide non-discriminatory access to future versions of its WordML Document specifications. In addition, Microsoft highlighted its commitment to support the availability of meaningful documentation, tools and services, and stated that it would pursue actions to document the existing non-XML formatted elements of the WordML Document format in XML format.
  • These positive responses represent a significant step on the way to establishing fully interoperable and seamlessly connected public administrations throughout Europe and to enabling seamless and transparent communications between EU public administrations, citizens and businesses.

    © European Communities 2004

    Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged. The views expressed are not an official position of the European Commission.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Don't forget Jimmy Wales on why "Free Knowledge requires Free Software and Free File Formats"
    Authored by: jbn on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 08:47 PM EST
    The blog entry is quite interesting and well worth a read.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Embedded Objects
    Authored by: micheal on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 09:10 PM EST
    IIRC (it has been almost a year since I used M$ Word) Excel objects can be
    embedded in a M$ Word document. So, the only way a M$ Word file can be truly
    open is if the format of any object that can be embedded is also open. Has
    Masachusets addressed this issue?

    LeRoy -
    What a wonderful day.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    • Embedded Objects - Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 05:48 AM EST
    Do they or don't they...
    Authored by: Latesigner on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 09:36 PM EST
    Get the point about getting along.
    It's true M$ could weasel out of the agreement with Mass. as well as the one
    with the EC.
    It's also true that doing so isn't going to do them any good where as abiding by
    the agreements might.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    This is why I can't understand Microsoft.
    Authored by: Brian S. on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 10:48 PM EST

    There are so many obvious reasons why the world will switch to "open". They are the same reasons IBM re-assessed its position on F/OSS and Linux in 2000.

    There are quality, security and well understood technical reasons the world should adopt open standards. It's almost a prerequisit for a successfull world wide web. There are national interests at stake and governments should be open and who wants their computer controlled by "big brother". In poorer countries they have a chance to "connect" in a way they can both understand in their own culture and afford to have this developed.

    The list is endless.

    WHY doesn't M$ understand this????

    Brian S.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    The Jan. 14th Eric Kriss Speech on Open Formats -- Transcript and Audio
    Authored by: wtansill on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 11:46 PM EST
    Actually, something like the Massachutses effort, had it been done earlier,
    would have saved the US and various state governments tons of money, and years
    of litigation.

    Think about this -- rather than having Justice, Boise, et. al. sue Microsoft for
    Anti-trust violations (and, effectively losing the battle even if they won
    legally), all the government had to do was specify open standards. The
    government puts out thousands upon thousands of solicitations, legal
    communications, press releases, regulatory documents, etc. every single day. In
    most cases, the tools used are Word and Excel. Every other entity dealing with
    the government is informally mandated to use Word and Excel so that they can
    communicate with the government at all levels. All that needs to be done is to
    specify that only open file formats will be usd at all levels of government, and
    Microsoft's monopoly is forever broken. End of story, and no more litigation...

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Open Formats -- video -- Dirac
    Authored by: davamundo on Tuesday, January 18 2005 @ 11:51 PM EST
    At the moment, although Ogg Vorbis stands out as the obvious candidate for todays open format, for audio, there is no such codec for video.. but there will be !

    It's called Dirac, and it's an important open source project from the BBC. Yup ! The British Broadcasting Company is busy coding tomorrows video format !

    As a broadcast profesional I'm exited, and as an open source enthisiast I'm thrilled, to see an alternative on the horizon for the worlds video content.

    clicky enough for ya :-) ?

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Does MP3 qualify as an "open format" according to the supplied definition?
    Authored by: jbn on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 12:35 AM EST

    The story says that "Eric Kriss, Secretary for the Executive Office of the Administration of Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has kindly given us permission to share with you audio of his recent speech on Open Formats [...]". I'm glad to see a warm reception for's work on OASIS and their software. I appreciate how hard it is to speak extemporaneously and be as precise as Kriss said he wanted to be. I host a radio show on my local community radio station, WEFT 90.1 FM, called Digital Citizen where I talk about these issues live on the air, taking phone calls live as well, every other Wednesday night from 8-10p. I've developed a sincere appreciation for people who can speak clearly, precisely, and do so in real time.

    What Kriss wants to accomplish is difficult. I think the lack of conditions on the aforementioned audio file distribution permission (the file was originally distributed as an MP3) show just how tricky it is to accomplish what he and his team set out to do.

    Consider Kriss' definition of an "open format": (emphasis mine)

    "Open Formats, as we're thinking about them, and we're trying to be precise with the language, because people use different English words for different technical terms, in our definition, "Open Formats" are specifications for data file formats that are based on an underlying open standard, developed by an open community and affirmed by a standards body; or, de facto format standards controlled by other entities that are fully documented and available for public use under perpetual, royalty-free, and nondiscriminatory terms."

    The free software community can see the irony of distributing an MP3 copy of the recording ostensibly meant to be attractive to the free software community, but I was curious if MP3 qualifies as an "open format" according to this definition?

    MP3 is covered by patents. Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, through Thomson, distributes licenses under uniform per-unit terms. Per-unit terms make their licensing structure incompatible with free software because it is impossible to know exactly how many copies of the ostensibly free software MP3 program are distributed (free software allows you to share and modify the software, hence the use of the word "free" not as a reference to price but to freedom). To my knowledge, nobody has paid the alternative $50,000 one-time license fee because nobody developing what would be a free software MP3 program can afford it. Therefore, in countries that have software patents (such as the US), there is no free software MP3 encoder or decoder. The MP3 patent situation drove the creation of Ogg Vorbis which, functionally, is a complete replacement for MP3, albeit an incompatible replacement—Ogg Vorbis files and MP3 files are not the same format and the methods to make the files are different. Vorbis is also considered a superior codec for its intended use. As far as I know, neither the Ogg encapsulation format nor the Vorbis lossy audio compression codec are covered by patents. The specification for Ogg Vorbis is in the public domain and free software reference encoders and decoders are available. These are other reasons why Ogg Vorbis is a superior choice to MP3.

    Reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing (also known as "RAND" licensing) can discriminate against free software implementations of the patented idea. The FSF reminds us, "that makes [RAND] unreasonable". MP3 licenses are available on so-called RAND terms, terms which are probably better described by the replacement term the FSF suggests: UFO for "uniform fee only" because the uniform fee is what these licensing schemes share. MP3 licensing is uniform for a particular use according to the terms described on their licensing page.

    So, has anyone asked Kriss or his organization if they considered the problem of RAND licensing?

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    URL for MA list of Document Formats
    Authored by: chris_bloke on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 03:38 AM EST

    Eric Kriss said:

    Now, we've published our initial open standards policy as I indicated a year ago.

    This list is (I believe) at fmodelv2.htm and dated May 2004.

    It lists:

    • Rich Text Format v. 1.7 (.rtf)
    • Plain Text Format (.txt)
    • Hypertext Document Format (.htm)
    • Portable Document Format (.pdf) - Reference version 1.5
    • Extensible Markup Language (XML) v. 1.0 (Third Edition) or v 1.1 when necessary

    Looking forward to seeing the updated version, thanks so much Eric and everyone else involved!

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Plain Text
    Authored by: sveinrn on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 05:50 AM EST
    The biggest problem with "plain text" is that one is loosing
    information. The original document may contain sections with cursive or bold or
    sections that has to be rendered with monospace fonts to be readable.

    The next problem is non-english letters. I am from Norway, and have had lots of
    strange problems caused by "plain text"-files beeing in a different
    codepage og character set than the printer expected. So as soon as one leaves
    the English language with 26 letters, there is really no such thing as
    "plain text".

    Among others, my document can be CP850, CP437, ISO-8859-1, ISO-8859-10 (if I
    need support for saami), UTF8 etc. So the first thing in the document has to be
    a header telling what character set the file is, and then it stops being a plain
    text file. Also, there is no guarantee that anyone is able to read even 7-bit
    ASCII 100 years from now.

    So I think the correct way of doing it is using good, open standards like xml
    and utf and try to make the documents easy to upgrade to new standards that are
    not yet created. One should, for example, try to limit the use of specific font
    names, because there is no guarantee that it is in use 50 years from now, and
    instead try to tell what kind of font (monospace, script etc.)

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    • Plain Text - Authored by: macrorodent on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 07:13 AM EST
    • Plain Text - Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 11:05 AM EST
      • Plain Text - Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 11:09 AM EST
    • XML open? (was Plain Text - Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 12:17 PM EST
    one advantage of MS formats
    Authored by: stevec on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 07:03 AM EST
    Is the wonderful revision control - a great way for the government's 'secrets' to leak out.
    bbc report

    Registered Linux user #375134

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    The Problem with Microsoft Formats
    Authored by: rsteinmetz70112 on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 11:12 AM EST
    Microsoft is unlikely to agree to what is truly necessary for their files to be
    a useful for archiving public documents in digital form. In addition to being
    open the formats must be stable. By stable I mean that the format must be fairly
    fixed and unchanging. Microsoft has shown no ability to maintain backward
    compatibility with their own proprietary applications.

    If someone has Word 2 documents I'm not sure how you could find software to read
    them on today. What do you think will be the case when Microsoft is up to Word
    43 in about 100 years?

    TXT and to a lesser extent HTML and PDF don't have this problem.


    "I could be wrong now, but I don't think so."
    Randy Newman - The Title Theme from Monk

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    My concerns - restated w/ more
    Authored by: Nick Bridge on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 05:14 PM EST
    The following clauses:
    Emphasis added
    If you distribute, license or sell a Licensed Implementation, this license is conditioned upon you requiring that the following notice be prominently displayed in all copies and derivative works of your source code and in copies of the documentation and licenses associated with your Licensed Implementation:

    "This product may incorporate intellectual property owned by Microsoft Corporation. The terms and conditions upon which Microsoft is licensing such intellectual property may be found at sp. "


    By including the above notice in a Licensed Implementation, you will be deemed to have accepted the terms and conditions of this license. You are not licensed to distribute a Licensed Implementation under license terms and conditions that prohibit the terms and conditions of this license.

    You are not licensed to sublicense or transfer your rights.

    These clauses prohibit (or near enough to be impractical) implementations in Open Source software.

    Since OSS appears to be Microsoft's biggest current threat, I would consider these two clauses to be very "descriminatory"

    Is there any intention or consideration of removing them?

    The following is from a reply to comments questioning the original post

    Open Source just cannot work if everyone who wants to distribute (etc) the software they just downloaded and modified has to go to everyone who has patents in the software to ask for permission. Which is EXACTLY what that license requires.

    What if Microsoft suddenly said "No"? Although they may not be able to retract their license from existing license-holders, they can most certainly refuse to license others.

    The whole point of the GPL clause 4 is to ensure that everyone always has permission to the 4 freedoms.

    The GPL also requires that no further restrictions are placed on distributions. Both the clauses I mentioned do this.

    Requiring additional noticed be placed in the software is not allowed by the GPL. And neither is adding the restriction of requiring licensees to obtain additional licenses directly from Microsoft.

    It does not float.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    A proposed definition of "open" or "public" data format
    Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, January 19 2005 @ 10:44 PM EST
    As my $2 (yup inflation) here is my thoughts on defining a
    open document format suitable for storage of public
    information. And for Software Vendor requirements

    1) The data format should be available as the default format
    for saving in the documents or data. This may be a
    configurable default format.
    ( because people are lazy and just hit save)

    2) The data format must be publicly documented and free
    from any restrictions on re-implimentation. The documentation
    must be complete and consistant with the produced file. This
    shuold include the underlying file system structure.

    The test for compliance is to hand the provided
    documentation, along with a file stored on a disk to a
    programmer with suitable skill with instructions to recreate and
    print (if appropiate) the file onto paper.

    By then comparing the recreated data with the origional
    there should be no difference.

    Any suggestions? improvements?
    I'm certain some one is able to define this far better than I
    can. Also I don't know if I've left any holes that unscruplius
    types can sneek through.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Official version of Eric Kriss Speech on Open Formats
    Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, January 21 2005 @ 05:07 PM EST
    Official version of Eric Kriss informal comments on OPEN FORMATS now available at

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Groklaw © Copyright 2003-2013 Pamela Jones.
    All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners.
    Comments are owned by the individual posters.

    PJ's articles are licensed under a Creative Commons License. ( Details )