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MS Responds to MA/OpenDocument Announcement
Tuesday, September 06 2005 @ 09:38 AM EDT

Microsoft says it won't support the OpenDocument format in Office 12. So there. That is their response to Massachusetts' ratification of and proposal to support OpenDocument.

OK. Be that way.

A spokesman claims it's because "the Office 12 formats pay special attention to compatibility with older document versions, [and] other formats do not concern themselves with this important issue."

Heh heh. They'll have to do better than that.

Another excuse is that they don't want to lose certain features, like video. They support plain text, don't they? Come on, Microsoft. Get real.

We all recall frustrating struggles trying to open our own documents saved in early versions of Word, having to search with Google to figure out what convoluted steps we needed to take to be able to open and read them in later versions of Word. So we know precisely how much backward compatibility means to Microsoft.

Of course, now we just open everything in, or at least that is what I do.

Another Microsoft employee, Brian Jones, is blogging on the topic also. He says he was "stunned" by Massachusetts' announcement. A lot of thoughtful comments were left on his blog, trying to explain it to him. He has answered them, in part, today and promises more to come. What he has said so far is that he doesn't know if Microsoft's XML license is GPL-compatible. I suggest he is high enough in the Microsoft food chain that he can ask, though, nu? That's if Microsoft's lawyers are not too busy blankety-blank killing off Google. In case they are just buried, I'll tell Brian: It isn't compatible with the GPL. You need to fix that.

He disingenuously points out that is under the LGPL, so he alleges he sees no problem:

Some folks seemed to think that the licenses for our formats were crafted to block out our competitors, but that couldn't be further from the truth. If you look out at the market place, there are a number of similar products, and the main ones (WordPerfect; Lotus; OpenOffice; etc.) should all be able to use our licenses and documentation to build in support for the Office XML formats. There have been several postings asking about whether our license for the Office XML schemas is compatible with the GPL. Iím not a lawyer and I donít pretend to understand all the intricate details in these licenses, but people seem to be interested in my opinion, so Iíll share it. OpenOffice is covered by something called the Lesser General Public License or LGPL. . . .

To me, this language says that it would be totally possible for someone to develop a ďlibraryĒ that can handle transformations between Office and OpenOffice documents. It also says to me that it doesnít matter whether that library is covered by the GPL or the LGPL. The LGPL language seems to encourage free software developers to link in these libraries to give them ďan advantage over competing non-free programs.Ē. . .

Again, Iím not expert, but the Microsoft license seems to say that you can use the Office XML specs to develop programs that can read and write Office XML files.

Ah, those Microsoft smoothies. Hahahaha. "Nothing could be further from the truth." Stop! Brian, you're killing me. Let me catch my breath a sec before you say another word.

They must send all their executives to the same PR school. Either that or it's simply amazing that they all just happen to talk the same way, just like Bill, about how "great" and "exciting" it is to get critical comments from a world aggrieved by their behavior. But let me straighten out my curled lip and hold back my tongue, ignoring what looks to me like hypocritical pretense, and just calmly explain to the *real* Brian Jones what the issues are:

  • Linux is under the GPL.
  • Approximately three-quarters of all FOSS software is too.
  • That isn't going to change.
  • Your XML license is not compatible with the GPL. Think sublicensing. Think attribution requirement.
  • You have a patent gotcha in your XML license.
  • There is no guarantee of what the future holds.
  • No one should have to take out a license from you to use an "open" standard.

I could go on, but it seems like make-work. Others are explaining it to him on his blog, and he selectively answers, as if he doesn't hear or comprehend what they are so clearly saying.

We care about interoperability. So do businesses. So does Massachusetts. In fact, that is their goal. They would like anyone to be able to open and read and use documents, no matter what operating system they are using. Is that Microsoft's goal? If not, that is the problem, Brian.

Massachusetts has concerns about the openness of Microsoft's license, which Eric Kriss explains:

Eric Kriss, Secretary of Administration & Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, told CRN on Friday that Massachusetts had concerns about the openness of Microsoft XML schemas as well as with potential patent issues that could arise in the future.

"What we've backed away from at this point is the use of a proprietary standard and we want standards that are published and free of legal encumbrances, and we don't want two standards," Kriss added.. . .

Earlier this year, in a document describing its work on open standards, the Commonwealth said that "the Microsoft "Patent License" for use of Office schemas has not been accepted as satisfactory by all parties, even if it eventually proves to satisfy the requirements of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. To some, the exceptions to the 'royalty-free license ... 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' are problematic, as are the terms of use," said the Commonwealth.

In the past, the issue of patent infringement has been used by Microsoft as a criticism against open source. . . .

"Someday, for all countries that are entering the WTO [World Trade Organisation], somebody will come and look for money owing to the rights for that intellectual property," Ballmer reportedly said.

Don't expect praise and acceptance from anyone as long as Microsoft is holding patents over the heads of the FOSS community and threatening us with patent infringement lawsuits by "someone" "someday", and then including patent wording in your licenses that seems to us to match the threat. Got it?

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