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MS Offer File Formats as Open Standards, Sorta Open
Monday, November 21 2005 @ 06:51 PM EST

You may have heard the news that instead of just supporting ODF, the format Massachusetts has chosen, Microsoft has announced they are offering their file formats as an open standard. According to the press release from Microsoft, there are some co-sponsors, including Apple and Intel:
Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) today announced it will take steps to offer the file format technology behind billions of documents to customers and the industry as an international standard. Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, NextPage Inc., Statoil ASA and Toshiba will co-sponsor a submission to Ecma International, the standards organization, of the Microsoft(R) Office Open XML (Extensible Markup Language) document format technology.

Here's an article in ComputerWorld with some thoughts on what this could mean:

Microsoft Corp. today said it will offer its Word, Excel and PowerPoint document formats as open standards, a move that could spark a war with technology rivals over standard document formats.

Microsoft said it would submit its Office Open XML document format technology to the International Standards Organization (ISO) to be adopted as an international standard in time for the launch of the next version of its Office software suite, code-named Office 12.

So, looks like it's war. Read the licenses on these file formats. That's my advice. If the license makes it impossible for GPL'd software to use the standard, then it isn't an "open" standard. It's just an anticompetitive maneuver against Microsoft's only real competition. This is so basic. Does Apple not know? Intel? It is interesting and telling that Microsoft found so few to stand up with them, but two is enough to make the assertion that the standard, if approved, is not tied to one vendor. You may wish to review David A. Wheeler's Open Letter to Microsoft for many more details:

Basically, if you choose Microsoft’s XML format, you have decided against open competition, in perpetuity. . . . If a specification cannot be implemented using the GPL, it discriminates against open source software (because the GPL is the most common such license). If a specification discriminates against open source software implementations, then it is not a specification that allows open competition. This was not as big an issue decades ago, when large-scale open source software systems were uncommon, but it sure is now.

Andy Updegrove has some quick thoughts on the subject on his blog, which I asked if I could share with you. What does it mean? And then after that, I'll provide the full press release.

Update: Note that Andy has updated his blog since this version was published, so do check his blog for latest details.


Microsoft Drops the Other Format Shoe
~ by Andy Updegrove

Ever since I interviewed Alan Yates at Microsoft back in September in connection with the Massachusetts/ODF story I've been wondering what Microsoft's strategy has been to fend off the challenge to Microsoft Office that the OASIS format standard presented. Microsoft did not get to be what it is today by being less than tough and thorough, and it had to be true that they would leave as little to chance as possible.

While Yates has been very terse and consistent in his public statements, things were certainly moving quickly behind the scenes, and it didn't take too long before the company's targeted Massachusetts strategy and global response emerged into the open.

The first shoe fell when an amendment was introduced in the Massachusetts Senate to remove policy authority from Peter Quinn and the Commonwealth's Information Technology Division. And the second, global, shoe just dropped today, as reported in a ComputerWorld story posted today aptly titled, and subtitled, Microsoft to open Office document format: The move could spark a standards fight over document formats .

Let's get the facts out first, at least to the extent that they are available. The key points are as follows:
- Microsoft claims to have lined up a number of heavy duty supporters, including Apple and Intel (each of which was at the Armonk meeting as an ODF supporter), and two major oil companies

- Microsoft will offer its Office Open XML formats to ECMA International "early next month", a European IT standards body in Europe with a close relationship with ISO

- Alan Yates has said that the ECMA/ISO process would take "about a year" and would yield an ISO imprimatur by the time Office 12 ships.

- Microsoft will make specific licensing commitments to remove "virtually all barriers" that would prevent developers from working with the file formats.

- Microsoft is wrapping itself in the Open flag (sample quote from Yates: "We look forward to the day when people look at this as a milestone, as the beginning of the end for closed documents")

So what does this all mean (and not mean?) The following observations and questions immediately pop to mind:

- What's promised today and delivered "a year from now" can be very different - a distinction that may be lost (for example) on the Massachusetts legislature.

- ECMA and ISO have RAND policies that I believe would fall short of the bar set by Massachusetts (an article by Martin LaMonica at records RedMonk's Steve O'Grady's opinion that Microsoft's past performance in offering technology to ECMA leaves it "not clear that Microsoft will relinquish control of the Office formats to other companies."

- And perhaps most tellingly, if Microsoft is willing to open its formats and to come up with the necessary converters to allow old documents to be upgraded, why not just support ODF? What's the advantage that will be maintained?

At this point, there's much more to be learned, and I'll be watching the news as it becomes available. You can look for this post to be updated at this location tonight and tomorrow morning, with more posts to follow.


Here's the full press release:

PARIS, Nov. 21, 2005 (PR Newswire delivered by Newstex) -- Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) today announced it will take steps to offer the file format technology behind billions of documents to customers and the industry as an international standard. Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, NextPage Inc., Statoil ASA and Toshiba will co-sponsor a submission to Ecma International, the standards organization, of the Microsoft(R) Office Open XML (Extensible Markup Language) document format technology. Furthermore, Microsoft will make available tools to enable old documents to capitalize on the open standard format. With Office document formats available as an open standard, customers will have even more confidence in their ability to store and manage data for the long term, with many more vendors and tools from which they can choose. The move will benefit the broader software ecosystem because software and services vendors worldwide will be able to more easily build compelling solutions that interoperate across a broad spectrum of technologies.

(Logo: )

These global industry leaders have agreed to work together as part of an open technical committee that Ecma members can join to standardize and fully document the Open XML formats for Word, Excel(R) and PowerPoint(R) from the next generation of Office technologies, code-named Office "12," as an Ecma standard, and to help maintain the evolution of the formats. The group will ask Ecma to submit the results of their collaboration to the International Organization for Standardization for approval.

With thousands of documents created every minute in an Office format, Microsoft's Office formats are used in dramatic numbers. More than 300,000 developers have utilized the XML file formats in Office 2003 editions alone. Those documents will be able to take advantage of the benefits of the new open standard, enabling document contents to be accessed, searched, used, integrated and developed in new, innovative ways. Customers, technology providers and developers around the globe will be able to work with the Open XML file formats without barriers, creating a broad ecosystem of products, applications and services that can work with the formats, with or without Microsoft software. As a result, documents and public records can be archived, maintained and maintained in perpetuity with long-term, widespread industry support.

"We are committed to open standards such as XML to provide the highest levels of interoperability between legacy and next-generation software," said Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International. "The creation of an XML file format standard is a major industry milestone. We hope this will provide both users and organizations with the peace of mind that they will be able to access their past and future documents for generations to come."

"We are pleased that Microsoft and its partners are making this submission to Ecma International," said Jan van den Beld, secretary general of Ecma International. "Our members around the globe pride themselves in their ability to drive progress and consensus on important technologies."

"Apple is pleased to support an Ecma standard for Microsoft Office Open XML document formats, which will make them more open and widely available to all," said Philip Schiller, senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing at Apple. "Apple and Microsoft will continue to work closely together to deliver great products to Mac users and application developers for many years to come."

"We view Microsoft's move to offer its widely deployed XML file formats for Ecma standardization as a very important and positive step forward for the industry," said Renee James, vice president and general manager of the Software and Solutions Group at Intel. "We are pleased to participate in the Ecma submission and documentation process, and believe our customers will benefit from better interoperability and systems integration."

"Just as our predecessors stewarded the development of the national published archive over the past 250 years, the British Library is committed to preserving and providing access to the U.K.'s digital heritage," said Adam Farquhar, head of e-Architecture at the British Library. "We expect that establishing Microsoft Office Open XML as an open standard will substantially enhance our ability to achieve this. It's an important step forward for digital preservation and will help us fulfill the British Library's core responsibility of making our digital collections accessible for generations to come."

About Ecma International

Since its inception in 1961, Ecma International (Ecma) has developed standards for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Consumer Electronics (CE).

The aims of Ecma International are:

-- To develop, in co-operation with the appropriate National, European and International organizations Standards and Technical Reports in order to facilitate and standardize the use of Communication Technology (ICT) and Consumer Electronics (CE).
-- To encourage the correct use of Standards by influencing the environment in which they are applied.
-- To publish these Standards and Technical Reports in electronic and printed form; the publications can be freely copied by all interested parties without restrictions.

For over forty years Ecma has actively contributed to world-wide standardization in information technology and telecommunications. More than 365 Ecma Standards and almost 90 Technical Reports of high quality have been published, more than 2/3 of which have also been adopted as International Standards and/or Technical Reports. Publications can be downloaded free of charge from / .

About the British Library

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. It includes: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Further information is available on the Library's website at

About the Microsoft Office System

The Microsoft Office system is an easy way to help more people use information to positively impact their business. Through a system of familiar and easy-to-use programs, servers, services and solutions, users can connect people and organizations to information, business processes and each other -- helping ensure that they derive the most value out of information. The Microsoft Office system consists of the 2003 editions of Microsoft Office, Microsoft Office SharePoint(R) Portal Server 2003, Microsoft Office Project and Project Server 2003, Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2003, Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2005, Microsoft Office Communicator 2005, Microsoft Office FrontPage(R) 2003, Microsoft Office InfoPath(R) 2003, Microsoft Office OneNote(R) 2003, Microsoft Office Publisher 2003, Microsoft Office Visio(R) 2003 and Microsoft Office Business Scorecard Manager 2005. Enabling technologies, such as Microsoft Windows(R) SharePoint Services and Microsoft Windows Server(TM) 2003, enhance the features and functionality of products in the Microsoft Office system.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

NOTE: Microsoft, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, FrontPage, InfoPath, OneNote, Visio, Windows and Windows Server are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.

The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

SOURCE Microsoft Corp.

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