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Some Musty Old MS FUD Fails & Sun Does a Very Fine Thing
Monday, October 03 2005 @ 09:56 PM EDT

Microsoft's Brian Jones continues FUD, FUD, FUDing about OpenDocument format and Massachusetts on his blog. There is a new wrinkle I'll tell you about. But my theme for today is: why can't Microsoft get its FUD into the 21st century?

First, for some reasons why OpenDocument format is so appealing to governments, and a bit on why Microsoft's just announced support for PDF in Office 12 won't be enough to qualify for inclusion under the Massachusetts Open Format requirement, even if that turns out to have been Microsoft's hidden agenda, here's an article by David Wheeler, "Why OpenDocument Won (and Microsoft Office Open XML Didnít)". Here are just three paragraphs:

Microsoft is predictably howling about this news, saying they are a ďbit stunnedĒ and that the results were ďunnecessarily exclusiveĒ. Microsoft better be prepared to be more stunned. Government officials in Massachusetts, Europe, and elsewhere, have been repeatedly telling Microsoft to stop posturing and actually meet their customersí needs for complete interoperability, with no restrictions. Yet Microsoft has steadfastly refused to meet their customersí needs, and theyíve done it so long that customers have abandoned their format. (Microsoft says they're open, but people who have independently evaluated the situation have determined that it's not true.) I suspect Massachusetts is only the first of many; governments around the world are working out their standards, preparing for the leap to XML-based office formats. The rest of industry is likely to follow suit, because they have many of the same needs and desires for long-lived documents and competitive suppliers. The best information available suggests that everyone is switching to OpenDocument, for all the same reasons, leaving Microsoft with a proprietary format no one wants to use. . . .

Microsoft has historically changed direction when it needed to embrace a standard, and they can easily do it in this case. For example, around 1995 it suddenly and finally embraced the Internet standards, dropping its own networking standards that no one wanted. I think (and hope) that good sense will prevail on Microsoft in this case too -- in other words, that theyíll embrace OpenDocument and continue to sell products. If you can only read one other piece on this topic, take a look at ZDNet's "Microsoft must drop its Office politics", which is a good article. ZDNet concludes "Microsoft has a very simple path open to it ... include OpenDocument compatibility in its software. ... it either adopts the industry standard or gets locked out. It may not like this -- it prefers to use this logic to cow its competitors -- but it should have no reason to avoid a level playing field." . . .

In many ways this decision was fairly obvious. OpenDocument appears, at this point, to be the way to go, with no realistic alternative, for any government. The only real contenders were:

1. Microsoft Office binary format, the current common interchange format. But this is being abandoned by Microsoft, fails to exploit the newer XML technologies (thus giving up their advantages), and because itís undocumented itís causing continuous information loss. Just try to read Office documents from 10 years ago -- youíll often fail. Now remember that governments need them in future centuries. Theyíre not meeting the need, so an alternative is needed.

2. Going with Microsoft Office XML, which as shown below, doesnít meet government minimum requirements such as allowing any supplier to implement it. And implementations arenít even available yet, though at this point that probably doesnít matter any more.

3. OpenDocument, the only official standard. Itís already implemented by multiple vendors (including some at no cost), and itís the only one that really meets government needs... and with a massive lead time to boot.

Other formats arenít really competitive. PDF is a very useful display format, but it has a different purpose -- while itís great at preserving formatting, it doesnít let you edit the data meaningfully. HTML is great for web pages, or short documents, but itís just not capable enough for these kinds of tasks. And so on. Both HTML and PDF will continue to be used, but they cannot be used as a complete replacement; people need what OpenDocument (or its Microsoft competitor) provides.

So, as he says, it looks like Microsoft gambled and lost. And supporting PDF won't save them. PDF is good, but it's good for documents that are read-only. It provides a way to save documents, like court documents, for example, that preserves the original look of the document perfectly. But if you want to edit the document, maybe by multiple people, which is typical for a government, PDF doesn't cut it for you. Microsoft is also only supporting PDF one way. You can save as PDF, but you won't be able to open in Office 12. Jones explains in a comment:

In response to the questions around what level of support there will be, I'll first say that the functionality is for the "publish" scenario. We will not support opening the PDF files, just generating them. I understand that two-way support would be even better, but the majority of the requests we got was for the ability to publish, and folks weren't as concerned about opening them.

So, what does this mean? To me it says Microsoft still needs to support the OpenDocument format to be considered for future implementation by Massachusetts. There's no workaround that I can see. They may think they've found a crack in the Massachusetts edifice. Jones hints as much:

The PDF support will be built into Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote, Visio, and InfoPath! I love how well this new functionality will work in combination with the new Open XML formats in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. We've really heard the feedback that sharing documents across multiple platforms and long term archiving are really important. People now have a couple options here, with the existing support for HTML and RTF, and now the new support for Open XML formats and PDF!

That fairly screams, "Let us in!" But here is the problem. Instead of walking through the front door, they are trying to slip in the back door. Their "Open" XML format is still a patent-encumbered proprietary format that GPL'd software can't use, so what difference will it make that Office 12 will be able to save as PDF? Also, exactly what does Microsoft mean by PDF? And if they have "really heard the feedback", why refuse to just support OpenDocument? That is what I've been hearing folks clamor for.

You know why? Because they are still stuck in 20th century thinking. They still gravitate to tricks and spin. You know, the good old days, when the competition would stand still to be knocked out by the big bully, Microsoft, and their anticompetitive tricks worked. They haven't yet upgraded to the new world.

Jones says the decision to support PDFs is due to strong customer demand. He also tells us and asks us to believe that all customers seem to be asking for is to be able to *save* documents in PDF. No one much wants to be able to open them, according to his account.

So, call me cynical, but might Microsoft want to make sure everyone has to buy their Office product in order to open documents saved in "their" version of PDF? You think? And if Microsoft responds to customer demand, why refuse to respond to the obvious demand to support OpenDocument format? If you wish to read Jones' list of reasons why Microsoft won't, so far, do so, here you go. The ZDNET article Wheeler references sums up Microsoft's reasons like this:

These boil down to 'we do more than you can and you'll never catch up, so why should we let you try?', which either shows a stunning lack of appreciation of how open standards work in the real world, or visceral fear caused by understanding this all too well.

Still stuck mentally in the good old days, when brute force was enough, Microsoft suddenly finds itself up against a wall, in a new situation but trying to cope with a skill set that is no longer effective. It's change or become irrelevant. Why can't they see it? For the same reason they didn't understand the Internet until it was almost too late for them. Microsoft sees the world as a map of which Redmond is the center. If it isn't happening at Microsoft, it can't possibly matter. That is their mindset. Success, particularly financial success, can do that to you. But FOSS doesn't play by Microsoft's rules nor can it be killed off by MS's old game plan. Microsoft's dilemma is that it wants to appear open without actually *being* open. It imagined we were such dopes, we'd never even notice the difference.

We do notice. You probably saw the classic FUD from James Prendergast, "Massachusetts Should Close Down Open Document," which I earlier wrote about. I love that crazy title, I must say, because it strikes my funny bone that Prendergast, and moneybags Microsoft peeking over his shoulder, doesn't know that you can't "close down" a standard. OpenDocument format is an OASIS standard, and no one can close it down. It may develop and morph along over time, but Massachusetts lacks the power to close it down. So does Microsoft.

Fox News has now published a notice informing its readers of James Prendergast's affiliation with Microsoft, and Fox acknowledges it "should have been stated clearly in the article" that ran on September 28. Fox has also disclosed the affiliation at the end of the original article. Additionally, Fox says it is compiling the best responses that it received to publish a rebuttal. Did it do that because it woke up wanting to do right, or was it because it got letters, polite, fact-filled letters, that clued them in that a lot of people saw through the game?

Yes. It's a metaphor, the Prendergast-Fox episode. It's a metaphor for Microsoft's 20th century FUD. I am reminded of something I believe John Kennedy said, after he became president, that he was surprised at how many things a president *can't* do and *can't* make happen in a democracy. It's the same with Microsoft. There are some things that money simply can't buy and influence on high can't arrange, because people get in the way. You know, people. As in democracy? As in the Internet? As in bloggers, for example.

See what I mean about Microsoft's old-fashioned FUD? It just falls flat, or its pants fall down. Is that the outcome Microsoft was hoping for? To be tactful, I'll call it classic FUD. But it's clear this company has not yet grasped that the Internet makes it impossible to control the media any more, or the message, because people don't get their news and information just from Fox and equivalent news sources any more. In fact, as this episode illustrates, it can happen that the reader knows a great deal more than the media and instructs them. Heaven knows there has been tremendous effort put into trying to control the media, so as to spin the news in the direction various groups think is in their best interests. But us plain folks, the people, just said, "P.U. I am fed up with spin. Let me see if I can find a blog somewhere to tell me the real story, the plain facts. Then, I'll go to Google and see if I can find any other original source materials, so I can figure out the truth myself." People are sick of controlled media, no doubt about it, and that is part of what is fueling interest in blogs. Folks were just starving for reliable information, and they are even willing to listen to someone with a personal point of view, so long as they know what it is up front, and they can check all the facts for accuracy.

The classic media method is to have a bias, but try to hide it from readers. The Prendergast matter is a good example of that style. Microsoft's "Get the Facts" Department of Silly Studies is another. It's all so 20th century over. Why? Because in the Internet age, you will always get caught when you spin. Always. We have Google to thank for that, in part, actually, if you stop and think about it, which is why I believe they should be given a special pass from Congress to collect the world's books to make them searchable. It's too wonderful a project to allow a few copyright holders to shut down something as truly valuable to the world as Google Print Library. I don't think the courts will rule in favor of the Author's Guild anyway, for reasons I explain in my article on LWN (sub reqd), but you never know for sure, so the obvious solution is for Congress to categorize Google Print Library as a library, with the special rights that libraries enjoy under copyright law. They are a library. They are a library in the digital age. It's time to reflect in the law what a digital library needs to function.

Sun Steps Up to the Plate and Hits a Home Run

But back to the 20th-century thinking of Microsoft, as reflected in their FUD. Microsoft's Brian Jones tried to do a little classic FUD about Sun Microsystems, as part of his useless but never-ending PR campaign against Massachusetts' decision to require OpenDocument format. And he ended up caught with his pants down, of course. What did he expect? Microsoft's problem is that it imagines all of its employees are the brightest and the best, so if they spin, we won't notice being spun. And it hasn't faced a bitter pill: people don't trust Microsoft to tell the truth any more. Here's one reason why, something Jones wrote on September 22:

While weíre on this topic, I think itís important that you all take a look at the comparable situation with Open Document. A lot of folks just seem to assume that since itís a standard, there are no IP issues and everything is very straightforward. Well, take a look at this: http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/office/ipr.php Sun seems to be saying that it may have IP in the Open Document spec. While Sun says it is willing to provide a royalty-free license, one would still need to ask Sun for a license. The license is not posted. It would be interesting to see, and I'll probably try to see if I can find it. The statement on the site alone reveals that at a minimum, they have at least one condition Ė you have to give Sun a reciprocal license.

I try to keep an open mind, so I read the statement, and all I saw was the standard OASIS language of the day, 2002:

Statement regarding IPR, submitted by Sun Microsystems, 11 December 2002 Sun Microsystems, Inc. ("Sun") will offer a Royalty-Free License under its Essential Claims for the OpenOffice.org XML File Format Specification. One precondition of any such license granted to a party ("licensee") shall be the licensee's agreement to grant reciprocal Royalty-Free Licenses under its Essential Claims to Sun and other implementers of such specification. Sun expressly reserves all other rights it may have.

The definitions of "Essential Claims" and "Royalty-Free License" in effect for the foregoing statement are those found in the W3C Patent Policy Framework dated 16 August 2001, located at http://www.w3.org/TR/2001/WD-patent-policy-20010816/.

That doesn't say what Jones said it does. Not by a mile. Yet Jones followed up with more FUD on September 23:

2. The OpenDocument format has IP and needs to be licensed from Sun.

Dennis points out the following in his comment:

Thanks for pointing out that Sun has a patent license agreement that applies to the OOo format.

Actually, because of the Sun reciprocity requirement (although the Sun OASIS notice is pretty muddled and mixed up with the W3C approach in an ambiguous way), I think that would be a tough pill for Microsoft to swallow in supporting OOo directly in Microsoft Office. The Microsoft royalty-free license seems more straightforward in that regard.

It is true that there is a license behind the OpenDocument format that no one has really talked about. This link says it all: http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/office/ipr.php. Have many folks explored what is behind this license and how compatible it is with existing licenses including the GPL? IBM also seems to be pushing Open Document as part of an pattern it has followed in which they use the open source community to drive its corporate agenda. What is IBM's position on IP rights?

The link says it all, all right. It says Jones is spinning, if you know how to read it. Perhaps Jones was hoping no one could. But as you can see from the comments, few were fooled. It probably helped that Sun's Simon Phipps placed this comment:

Sun is not asserting it has IP, your reading is wrong
Tuesday, September 27, 2005 7:27 PM by Simon Phipps
I respond to your comments about Sun's alleged IP here: http://blogs.sun.com/roller/page/webmink?entry=fud_and_the_lost_argument

To summarise: the statement at OASIS does not indicate that Sun is asserting IP. It dates from before OASIS had a royalty free IP policy and it merely indicates that if Sun /did/ find it had IP it would license it royalty free, in the way that's generally accepted by companies engaging in standards bodies. Your headline assertion number 2 is thus dead wrong.

And it's insulting. Only a person who has not participated in, or has no interest in, or does not know the first thing about, or is trying to deceive others about, open standards can imagine that in this day and age, after two years of participating in an open standards development process, bringing a specification all the way to an accepted Standard, a company can in fact say "hey, we never disclosed this but wouldn't you know... we do have essential claims and now you have to get a license from us!".

To do so would be deeply dishonourable, and your implication that Sun's staff would do this is an insult.

Dishonorable conduct is not unthinkable from corporations. Microsoft already taught us that lesson, sadly, which is why Brian Jones' reassuring words don't reassure his readers, but the explanation is accurate to my reading as to what the wording means. But then Sun did something truly commendable. They sent a new statement to OASIS, which not only proves Mr. Jones to be inaccurate in what he was claiming about the old one, but clears the air thoroughly, and for this they should be commended. Here is the Sun statement that appears now on OASIS:

Sun OpenDocument Patent Statement, submitted by Sun Microsystems, Inc., September 29, 2005

Sun irrevocably covenants that, subject solely to the reciprocity requirement described below, it will not seek to enforce any of its enforceable U.S. or foreign patents against any implementation of the Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) v1.0 Specification, or of any subsequent version thereof ("OpenDocument Implementation") in which development Sun participates to the point of incurring an obligation, as defined by the rules of OASIS, to grant (or commit to grant) patent licenses or make equivalent non-assertion covenants. Notwithstanding the commitment above, Sun's covenant shall not apply and Sun makes no assurance, covenant or commitment not to assert or enforce any or all of its patent rights against any individual, corporation or other entity that asserts, threatens or seeks at any time to enforce its own or another party's U.S. or foreign patents or patent rights against any OpenDocument Implementation.

This statement is not an assurance either (i) that any of Sun's issued patents cover an OpenDocument Implementation or are enforceable, or (ii) that an OpenDocument Implementation would not infringe patents or other intellectual property rights of any third party.

No other rights except those expressly stated in this Patent Statement shall be deemed granted, waived, or received by implication, or estoppel, or otherwise.

Similarly, nothing in this statement is intended to relieve Sun of its obligations, if any, under the applicable rules of OASIS.

I read it and saw that they are absolutely not claiming any license requirements such as Jones pretended to see in the original wording, and I see clearly that there is no requirement to contact Sun to seek a license to use OpenDocument. It's a clear promise not to asserts patents at all on any implementation of the OpenDocumentFormat Sun participates in developing. Period. If you bring a patent infringement action over the OpenDocument Implementation, then Sun's promise ... well, as they say in New York, just fuggeddaboudit. It's universal, covering any enforceable patent, not just "Essential Claims." It's an excellent example of the defensive use of patents. It's a fine and complete answer to the Microsoft FUD. Thanks to Sun, we can be sure that OpenDocument format is unencumbered, and in a way that Microsoft can't match, or at least has not matched. I'd love to see Microsoft match this promise on its "Open" XML, wouldn't you? For that matter, I'd be happy if every corporation would follow this Sun template. It is FOSS friendly, there are no worries about sublicensing, and to sum up, it's a green light to develop software on the OpenDocument OASIS Standard. What's not to like? I have looked and looked, and I see no down side.

You know how you can tell the difference between a real blog and a corporate blog? Both will be wrong sometimes. Just like all media outlets, blogs make mistakes sometimes, because mere humans write them. But a true blogger tells you about the mistakes openly and honestly. On a corporate blog, it's more likely to be silence. I haven't seen Brian Jones acknowledge this Sun statement on his blog, or publish a correction to the entries that made the false accusation about OpenDocument being encumbered with Sun IP. So, we'll wait and see whether Mr. Jones acknowledges that he was flat out stone cold wrong or if there is continued silence. So far, not a word about Sun's statement can I find on Brian Jones' blog. Do you really think it's because he doesn't know about it?

I saved the worst for last. Jones on Massachusetts and why he thinks it went the way it did:

Massachusetts is obviously an interesting case and our competitors are having a lot of fun trying to turn this into a bigger story, but from what I've heard, I think some officials at the State were duped. There is no question that this licensing stuff can be really confusing. Just a few months ago, a government official from Massachusetts took a hard look at the Office XML program and publicly stated that his office found it to be "open" and fully consistent with the State's policies. Look here: (http://www.governmentciosummit.ca/GovernmentCIOLeadershipSummit page 23). For the most part, that announcement sort of inspired a yawn around here because our program had already been out for a year and had received a lot of good feedback from other governments. What happened after that? Well, the guy was deluged by lobbyists and influencers who told him that was a bad decision. People told him that the licenses were full of ghosts and scary shadows and bogeymen who would be bad for Massachusetts. It was tough to resist this line of argument because IBM/Lotus and Sun have a big presence in his State. The official himself had also been the CEO of an open source company just before taking office. So, just before he left office (yes, he just took off), he fired off his shot gun with this new policy while running out the door without really thinking through all the implications. Starting to get a picture of what happened? It's actually even a bit uglier that than, but I won't bore you with the details.

Anyway, that's life and we're going to work through the issue. We're already taking an open approach, so we are fundamentally supporting the vision of governments that are interested in open formats. There are also a bunch of smart people in Massachusetts who are trying to do the right thing and we want to work with them in a constructive way. That's our plan.

Could he get more insulting? The government of Massachusetts got confused about licenses, because licenses are over their heads? Is he joking? You heard the meeting. Did the Massachusetts lawyer sound confused? Did Eric Kriss? Did any of them? And they got duped by evil "lobbyists and influencers" who deluged them with ghost stories and tall tales? Microsoft? Complaining about lobbyists? Puh-lease. Lobby is Microsoft's middle name. And anyway, even if it were true that Massachusetts was deluged with comments from the public, isn't the government supposed to listen and respond to such comments? Just as Microsoft's spokesman, in the same breath, tells us that Microsoft gave in to public requests and will now support PDF format, he criticizes the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for doing the same thing, listening to its "customers," its constituents. And the next insult is that Kriss used to be the CEO of an Open Source company, so he just flipped the switch on his way out the door without really thinking. Notice Jones doesn't mention Kriss' name? I think it's probably to protect Jones from being sued.

It's Microsoft to a T. They do not hesitate to try to destroy reputations, with the same insouciance that they display when trying to destroy competing companies. And that, at the very bottom of it all, is Microsoft's fundamental problem. It suffers from a lack of public trust. That is because we have all watched its ethics on display. It is like the famous T shirt says, "Open Source. It's the difference between trust and antitrust."

Linux will continue to grow, and open formats and standards will continue to be adopted in part because we don't trust Microsoft. FOSS will win because of its values. It represents ethics, values. One thing Stallman was right about from the beginning: it's not just about better code, as important as that is. It's about better values, higher ethics. What businessman wouldn't want to do a deal with someone he knows he can trust to say what he means and to mean what he says? It is the one thing Microsoft can't compete against, no matter what it tries from its play book. In fact, every dirty trick it tries will simply reinforce the impression that Microsoft doesn't offer the trust level you find in Free and Open Source software. And that is why, unless Microsoft picks up on the ethics of FOSS, instead of just pretending to be "open", it is ultimately going the way of the dodo bird.


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