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Another Reason Microsoft's OSP Isn't Good Enough
Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 04:14 AM EDT

We've seen the reasons given by the Free Software Law Center as to why Microsoft's Open Specification Promise, or OSP, provides no assurance for FOSS developers. But what about everyone else?

Here's an issue that affects everyone, not just FOSS developers, as explained by the Free Software Foundation South America in a long discussion of OOXML and why NBs should not approve it:

It carries a number of dependencies on earlier Microsoft decisions, not all of which are part of the already-huge specification, and Microsoft's promise covers only fully-compliant implementations. But Microsoft Office isn't fully compliant with the OOXML (Office Open XML) specification, therefore those who seek interoperability with Microsoft's software won't be covered by its promise.

Eek. I understand that to be saying that there are gaps in OSP coverage. You'll get documents you can't legally open unless you are using Microsoft's software, because the extensions found in Office but not in OOXML proper, so to speak, are not covered. Let me explain what I think they are saying this means.

We knew we'd get documents we couldn't open effectively from a technical standpoint, without at least losing something in the translation. But if extensions to the OOXML format, as exemplified in Microsoft Office 2007, are not covered by the OSP, and evidently they are not, when you get a document with, say, spreadsheet macros, or DRM, what legally protects you if open the document? All Microsoft has to do, then, is extend the format, as it already has, and you then can only interoperate with them if you use Microsoft software too. So. OSP gaps. Nice work if you can get it.

Why would anyone in their right mind approve such a thing as this as a *standard*? A standard that you can't use without risk of legal consequences? Oh, you can implement the standard, but if Microsoft doesn't do so without extensions that are not protected by the OSP, there will be no true interoperability, because the OSP doesn't cover the extensions. OSP gaps. You'll be implementing the standard while Microsoft is ignoring it in their products. How do you like them apples? Is interoperability not the point of a document standard? The format will be on paper, and you can implement all you like, but to interoperate with Microsoft's implementations of it, you'll need to use Microsoft software. Great. Locked in again.

You surely need to ask your lawyer before you use this format, I'd think, and certainly before you vote to approve it. This doesn't meet even the most basic elements of simple fairness, if I've understood this correctly. And I believe I have.

And that raises this question: why would any national body vote yes on a format that allows extensions that are not guaranteed to be free of intellectual property dangers, hence enabling an end result that only Microsoft users get to open documents safely and the rest of us can't? Now, that's all well and good for a proprietary business plan, if a vendor must. But for a standard? I'd like to hear the arguments for why that is fair or meets even the most elementary requirements for a standard. What would be the basis, legally, for approving such a discriminatory standard that just happens to benefit a monopoly at the expense of its number one competition? I think at a minimum, the OSP needs to be extended to cover such extensions, so the world can live as one, as the song says, and actually exchange documents freely, regardless of what operating system they like to use. I can't think of any good reason to vote to approve OOXML until the IP issues are resolved. These are resolvable concerns, but until they are, it's simply unconscionable to approve it, as far as I'm concerned.

Here are some more issues raised by FSFLA:

And then, it might very well be the case that Microsoft licensed third parties' patents used in its standard, and its promise does not cover them. Even if anyone else succeeded in addressing, in an alternate implementation, all of the Microsoft-centric dependencies needed for full compliance, there would still be a threat that some third party, colluded with Microsoft or not, would demand patent royalties from this effort. Microsoft itself wouldn't have a problem with this, but how about the rest of us?...

A number of governments, companies and organizations are concerned about the imminent danger of approval of the OOXML proposed standard, because it would void the promise of interoperability through a single international Free Open Standard. Meanwhile, most of the society remains oblivious to the dangers of proprietary standards.

We can't overemphasize their importance. Think Egyptian hieroglyphs without a Rosetta stone. And, to realize the inconvenience of multiple standards, think of the Rosetta stone itself, an official document that had to be published in multiple languages in order to reach all inhabitants of that region. Why would society benefit from having to publish documents in multiple encodings in order to ensure everyone can get to them? We already have one format that works well, it's already supported by all widely-used office suites, and anyone else is permitted to implement it. We are better off without another international standard, Open or Proprietary.


Another Reason Microsoft's OSP Isn't Good Enough | 78 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections Here
Authored by: entre on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 04:19 AM EDT
Where needed

[ Reply to This | # ]

OT Here
Authored by: iceworm on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 04:35 AM EDT

Getcher OT here (clickies please)

[ Reply to This | # ]

News Picks
Authored by: iceworm on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 04:38 AM EDT

Please include the title of the news pick in the title of your comment, and don't forget the clickies.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Don't ask us; ask the NBs
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 05:01 AM EDT

why would any national body vote yes on a format that allows extensions that are not guaranteed to be free of intellectual property dangers, hence enabling an end result that only Microsoft users get to open documents safely and the rest of us can't?

I have no idea why a National Body would do something so unreasonable. Has anybody asked them?

Seriously, has anyone asked the chairpersons of the NBs which voted "yes" why they voted "yes" in the face of all the evidence (see Rob Weir's blogs, etc) that MSOOXML is nowhere near ready for standardization?

Do we even know who to ask?

[ Reply to This | # ]

XML specifically covers this (but OpenBIFF might not)
Authored by: Winter on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 05:04 AM EDT
As I understood, the XML definitions require applications to ignore unknown
tags. That is, any application should leave tags it doesn't recognize alone and
proceed with those it DOES know about.

In the case of OpenBIFF^H^H^H^HXML this should mean that any non-MS application
would simply only process MSOffice07 files partially, ie, the parts it legally
can. Spitting out MS-only parts unchanged is, I believe, might be part of the
DIS29500 specification and should therefore, maybe, sort of, could in some
sense, be allowed by the OSP.

However, this assumes that you can technically ignore unknown tags. XML schema
should be defined in such a way that this is possible. But OpenBIFF^H^H^H^HXML
is not really XML at all.


Some say the sun rises in the east, some say it rises in the west; the truth
lies probably somewhere in between.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Intellectual Property?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 05:20 AM EDT
I thought the use of the phrase "Intellectual Property" was to be
discouraged since it willy-nilly mashes up copyright, patent and other

Is this phrase acceptable again? Does it no longer aid and abet FUD?

Do we mean patents, copyright, trademark? What?


[ Reply to This | # ]

Another Reason Microsoft's OSP Isn't Good Enough
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 05:42 AM EDT
I'd like to hear the arguments for why that...meets even the most elementary requirements for a standard.
I think you're confusing two standards: de jure and de facto.

For de jure, I totally agree with you, but consider what de facto standards Microsoft has given us:
Web html - don't stick to their version and your browser or web page don't look good/work in the majority of users' experiences.

Document transfer: I'm looking for a job and I've just used a web site to create a CV for me - it's emailed me a MS Word copy of the CV it's generated so that I can edit minor problem: I don't have MS Word1. I suspect that they also want a CV to be attached on their site in MS Word format2, though they don't actually specifically state this.
1Actually that isn't quite such a problem as I have OpenOffice.Org, but that's not the point - they're expecting me to spend £££ to be able to apply for a job.
2I am extremely tempted to upload an ISO standard formatted CV, ie an ODF formatted one with a name giving details of how to open (ie something like: moan at MS and download and install for nowt on all your machines whilst waiting) - especially as I've noted they're smaller that .DOC formatted ones and there's a limit on CV size.

[ Reply to This | # ]

by the people, for the people
Authored by: TropicalCoder on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 08:07 AM EDT

As a Canadian, I am horrified to watch the National Standard Committee of my good neighbours to the south being held hostage by a single company. How did it get to be that Microsoft controls the vote of the United States of America at the ISO/OEC JTC 1/SC 34? Don't you people have a democracy down there? Aren't you supposed to have a "government of the people, by the people, for the people", to quote your famous Gettysburg Address?

It just floors me that you have allowed this to happen to yourselves. Why haven't there been court challenges by now?

Can you not get a representative from the Software Freedom Law Center to fight this from every imaginable avenue of attack? Even if grounds are so shaky that any attempt would be immediately thrown out of court, it is still worthwhile to try. You can't just take this sitting down. Blogging about it will not make it go away.

Can you not find a "Representative of the People" in your Congress or your Senate willing to help reclaim the honour of your country? How about this Obama fellow? He seems to be tech savvy. Couldn't you get some prominent person such as a rep from the SF Law Centre or Richard Stallman to brief him on the M$OOXML situation? Or is his campaign funded by Microsoft? (I certainly don't mean to imply that - I have no idea whatsoever who funds his campaign.)

From Pseudorandom Thoughts by Rob Weir...

"So what is wrong with stacking a committee? Isn't it just an expression of our freedom to associate? An interesting perspective from the Supreme Court, in a case that no one is talking about, but everyone should know: ALLIED TUBE & CONDUIT CORP. v. INDIAN HEAD, INC., 486 U.S. 492 (1988). This appears to be the highest profile case involving stuffing a standards committee:"

"Petitioner...can, with full antitrust immunity, engage in concerted efforts to influence those governments through direct lobbying, publicity campaigns, and other traditional avenues of political expression. To the extent state and local governments are more difficult to persuade through these other avenues, that no doubt reflects their preference for and confidence in the nonpartisan consensus process that petitioner has undermined. Petitioner remains free to take advantage of the forum provided by the standard-setting process by presenting and vigorously arguing accurate scientific evidence before a nonpartisan private standard-setting body. And petitioner can avoid the strictures of the private standard-setting process by attempting to influence legislatures through other forums."

"What petitioner may not do (without exposing itself to possible antitrust liability for direct injuries) is bias the process by, as in this case, stacking the private standard-setting body with decision makers sharing their economic interest in restraining competition."


...and finally, why is Firefox flagging my Canadian spelling of words such as "neighbours", "honour", and "centre" as wrong?

[ Reply to This | # ]

How is this different to ODF?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 09:09 AM EDT
Sun have a patent promise for ODF, but that surely doesn't cover their extensions (e.g., macros, formulas, etc.)

That's not going to stop people interoperating with OOo though, is it?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Another Reason Microsoft's OSP Isn't Good Enough
Authored by: fredex on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 10:18 AM EDT
You'll get documents you can't legally open unless you are using Microsoft's software, because the extensions found in Office but not in OOXML proper,
PJ, I don't think they are necessarily referring to extensions. I think they are pointing out that Word simply doesn't exactly conform to the so-called standard. This could be extensions, it could merely be things that are different--purposely made different (as intentional gotchas), or that haven't yet caught up (if they ever will) with the document.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Another Reason Microsoft's OSP Isn't Good Enough
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 11:54 AM EDT
Yeah thanks for this, like I said before I think OOXML actually stands for
Optionally-Open XML, this is due to prior experience on how .net works.

.net has been released to ECMA and MS offers it as open stuff , EXCEPT for

So, what happens is that all the MS IDES (And SharpDevelop) will almost make it
explicit to the user that he must use, you decide to make
an application and it will use windows.forms by default, you got to opt-out and
there is no other easy way to have GUI in a .net app without that. And that’s
not the only case, MS enforces extensions, like SQL server and other issues.

This is the reason MONO fails to do the only job you would have considered as
useful to Linux, let people use important .net apps outside the framework, let
me talk from experience that this happens specifically to “Da Vinci” the
Bolivian tax client software which was implemented on and among other
things requires you to run a SQLserver client and comes with activeX components…
Thus it is impossible to run it on MONO in Linux anyways.

So, that’s how I think it would work in Office, MS will forever advertize OOXML
as the ultimate open document standard, let’s just assume you actually were able
to implement such 6000 pages long format, and that you give enough confidence on
the OSP to implement it, you will still be screwed up since MS is most likely to
make office in a way that users will be (unsuspectingly) forced into using the
non-covered extensions, since it will be VERY easy to add them to your OOXML
document, and VERY hard not to add them.

~Victor Soliz

[ Reply to This | # ]

Another Reason Microsoft's OSP Isn't Good Enough
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 05:22 PM EDT
It should be a requirement for the creation of a standard that any IP included
in that standard becomes public domain for the implementation of that standard.
It would avoid IP traps and make companies think twice before trying to push
something through.


[ Reply to This | # ]

MS refused to agree to abide by OOXML
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 09:28 PM EDT
I seem to remember someone asking an MS rep (lawyer?) if
the attempt at getting OOXML listed as a "standard" meant
that MS would undertake to follow it in future, he said no.

Anyone else remember this?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Does MSOOXML even map to ODF?
Authored by: amd on Friday, March 28 2008 @ 06:15 AM EDT
There is one important aspect of this ODF/MSOOXML saga that seems to be missed
by many commentators: OOXML is a set of specifications for CONTENT EXCHANGE, it
is NOT a set of specifications for page rendering. This was made clear at a
presentation by MS representatives that I attended a couple of months back.
"Rendering is Proprietary" was emphasised.

Could those with more knowledge than I have of ODF state if ODF specifies

[ Reply to This | # ]

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