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Microsoft Government Politics

Microsoft Partially Opens Proprietary XML Format 369

Posted by Zonk
from the peer-into-the-hat dept.
eschasi writes "Groklaw has an article up reporting that Microsoft is going to open up their XML representation of the DOC format in response to Massachusetts' demand for open formats. According to Groklaw there are some interesting caveats involved in the move. From the license: 'We are acknowledging that end users who merely open and read government documents that are saved as Office XML files within software programs will not violate the license'. While opening up the format even partially is a good idea, it's still a far cry from folks being able to write programs that create DOC-compatible files."
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Microsoft Partially Opens Proprietary XML Format

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  • Opening? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wzzrd (545802) on Friday March 25, 2005 @11:36AM (#12046215)
    Mind you, this is - as I understand it at Groklaw - merely an opening to make GPL-applications able to read (not write!) government made (nothing else) documents, without interfering with MS patents. 'Open' might not be the best word for this...
    • Re:Opening? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CDarklock (869868) on Friday March 25, 2005 @11:41AM (#12046272) Homepage Journal
      I find it strange that they say "fully compliant". What if you create a document that is NOT fully compliant? Maybe that substitutes one tag for another? You'd probably need a lawyer to answer that question, but it's an interesting question.
    • Re:Opening? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Technician (215283) on Friday March 25, 2005 @12:07PM (#12046514)
      'Open' might not be the best word for this...

      The best word is "tip" as in the tip of the wedge. Someone somewhere will need to fill out a government form and send it back. The file will be opened to be exported. It will be exported to an open format. The Government will need to open the document. This will either cause the demand for open format support in government by using 3rd party software or Microsoft in order to keep the applications will have to change to meed the consumer requirements to fully support open formats. Tip of the wedge is the best description. The tip is in place. Now the pressure mounts. Let's see what gives next.
    • Indeed, they try to make the smallest possible concession.
      But it might be sufficient:
      open the document, then save it to another format that is not encumbered by M$ patents.

    • Re:Opening? (Score:3, Informative)

      by DaveLV (790616)
      http://www.microsoft.com/Office/xml/faq.mspx

      Q. Are the licenses that Microsoft offers under the Open and Royalty-Free Office 2003 XML Reference Schema program perpetual in nature?
      A. Yes. The licenses for the Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas are perpetual. There is no term limit on the licenses.

      Q. Can the licenses for the Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas be used by open source developers?
      A. Yes. Open source developers who wish to participate in a community development project can enter into the agreement
  • by sugapablo (600023) on Friday March 25, 2005 @11:37AM (#12046224) Homepage
    Proprietary XML? Leave it to Microsoft to completely miss the whole damn point.
    • by 0x461FAB0BD7D2 (812236) on Friday March 25, 2005 @11:40AM (#12046261) Journal
      They got the wrong definition. Redmond thought it meant "eXclusive Markup Language".

      Small typos like that get passed around in memos and next thing you know, you have patents for numerous things.
    • Proprietary XML? Leave it to Microsoft to completely miss the whole damn point

      Be damned if I know what proprietary has to do with it being humanly readable. Leave it to slashdot readers to think Xml has much to do with open source because you can "look at it".
      • by SolusSD (680489) on Friday March 25, 2005 @01:22PM (#12047204) Homepage
        XML was designed to alleviate problems exchanging data between different formats. Using namespaces to define what different fields meant data could be exchanged by simply translating the namespaces. It is almost pointless, aside form being human readable, for microsoft to use XML if they are going to make it proprietary and not allow any other programs to read/write it. allowing readability of the format is one step forward.
    • Re:Proprietary XML? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by plague3106 (71849)
      You can have xml and still be properitary. In otherwords its their schema that is propertery (they claim no one else can use that schema).

      Of course given enough word docs you could probably figure out the schema...but they have a patent on it.
    • by iabervon (1971) on Friday March 25, 2005 @01:20PM (#12047182) Homepage Journal
      The relevant point of using XML is that it's a standard for serializing and deserializing structured data in a way that doesn't depend on the type of data. So it's an advantage in maintainability over their old binary formats, and makes it easier for different Office versions to be compatible with each other.

      The only benefit to them of XML being commonly associated with public standards is PR.
      • Re:Proprietary XML? (Score:3, Informative)

        by idlake (850372)
        The relevant point of using XML is that it's a standard for serializing and deserializing structured data in a way that doesn't depend on the type of data.

        XML is a markup language, not a language for serializing data structures. The two are not the same: most of XML is completely unnecessary for serializing data structures, so something much simpler would do, while at the same time, XML lacks primitives for common data structures found in real programming languages. That makes XML a really poor choice f
  • by vidarlo (134906) <vidarlo.bitsex@net> on Friday March 25, 2005 @11:39AM (#12046251) Homepage
    This at least gives us the right to our own data back, since we can then convert it to a more useable format. So it seems like we've won the first battle, but not the war!

    The right to own data was lost with closed format, since it did require a license to read something you might have produced yourself. For a private person, it might be sad. For a corporate needy of its archives of past correspondance, it can be catastrofal. That microsoft opens up their format for reading, and specifies parts of it, makes it possible to write software to convert this data to a open format, or index it and such. Therefor, we can still save in MS format, but have much-less tie in.

    I'm only wondering how far it goes, if it goes as far as to say that I'm allowed to make a non-MS certified opensourced bot that crawls my disk, and indexes office XML files... And what if a corporate does so, will they be allowed?

    • Is catastrofal a perfectly cromulent word?

      In English the word is catastrophic.

    • The right to own data was lost with closed format, since it did require a license to read something you might have produced yourself.

      You required the license to create it in that format. I don't see how this is problematic.
    • No, this legal right to view documents only applies to government created documents. Corps and individuals need not apply.
    • So it seems like we've won the first battle, but not the war!

      I'm not so sure. Take this scenario:

      <MS user>Here, take this Word DOC [of something important]
      <Linux geek>Can't open it. Convert it to something I can read.
      <MS user>Uh, it will open properly in Open Office [due to the article] now, try that.
      <Linux geek>Uh, well [speak microsoft badness]. Can you convert it...
      <MS User>No. My Word DOC file is multi-platform compatible now, there is no need for me to convert i
    • This at least gives us the right to our own data back, since we can then convert it to a more useable format. So it seems like we've won the first battle, but not the war!

      You never lost the right to your data, you could always output your data into something else. Text, RTF if you wanted to preserve formatting. RTF's specification and a sample reader are published by Microsoft, http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url = /library/en-us/dnrtfspec/html/rtfspec.asp. You have won nothing, you do kn

    • This at least gives us the right to our own data back, since we can then convert it to a more useable format...

      That microsoft opens up their format for reading, and specifies parts of it, makes it possible to write software to convert this data to a open format, or index it and such. Therefor, we can still save in MS format, but have much-less tie in.

      You seem to be under the impression that ".DOC" documents use something other than eight bit ASCII characters to store data. Try this: Open up WINWORD.EXE

  • Interesting Quote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rude Turnip (49495) <valuation@nOSpAm.gmail.com> on Friday March 25, 2005 @11:40AM (#12046254)
    "We are acknowledging that end users who merely open and read government documents that are saved as Office XML files within software programs will not violate the license."

    It seems that the ability for a citizen to read and access government documents should surpass all other interests, regardless of licensing issues. In other words, even if a government employee was boneheaded enough to save a document in a proprietary format, my ability access to the information in that document should be guaranteed no matter what, licenses be damned.
    • I wouldn't think that the owner of the proprietary format would have to let you open it, but that the boneheaded agency that generated the document would have to generate a copy in some form you could read (I presume that if you for example need a large print or braille version of a document, there's something saying you can get it?)
  • Sneaky (Score:4, Insightful)

    by danbond_98 (761308) on Friday March 25, 2005 @11:40AM (#12046259)
    Ah, and once again Microsoft do what they do best: create a solution to a demand which doesn't actually solve the problem but your average politician can point at and say "they've cooperated". Bit like their server licencing and the judgement against them in the EU, it's providing a solution which is useless yet looks good on paper.
  • Call me an idiot, but I seriously cannot see the problem here. How can Microsoft issue a licence that forbids me to build DOC-writing support in my application? OOo has done this for years, without any problems.

    Patent law does not work, IMHO, because XML has been around for ages.
    • WTF does "partially open" actually mean? MSFT
      has embraced/extended/extinguished the meaning
      of the word "open" (as in "open" standard).

      MSFT would like the public to believe that they
      own/invented the XML standard -- but what they
      really did was embrace/extend/patent(/extinguish)
      what was an open standard with open specifications
      and close the standard. Any/all governments all
      over the world should take note of Microsoft's
      continued monopolistic behaviour, and punish them
      in the only manner MSFT can comprehend --
    • Re:So what ... (Score:4, Informative)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday March 25, 2005 @02:31PM (#12047786) Journal
      Microsoft can not prevent you from writing software that creates .doc files. What the can do, is prevent you from writing software that creates .doc files if you read the .doc file specification. They own the specification, and can put any conditions on it they like (up to those permitted by law). You then have to choose between reverse engineering the format (assuming you live somewhere where it is still legal), or getting a copy of the spec and only adding read support.
  • a usefull start (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FidelCatsro (861135) <fidelcatsro@gmail.TOKYOcom minus city> on Friday March 25, 2005 @11:46AM (#12046326) Journal
    If they open up the format just enough so we can read it , it will be a nice enough start so we can officaly open the documents then save them as a fully open format.
    As much as i would love them to be made to play fair and open the format fully ,
    Opening it enough to make it easy to parse gives us all we need incase of the disapearence of word , or MS trying to force an upgrade by breaking compatability in some way.
    • Note that these terms don't actually allow one to CREATE software to read this format, just USE it. Nor does it permit using this software you used (but couldn't create) to modify MA govt docs or read or write any other docs in the format. Also, obtaining the format docs themselves requires a click-through license, which may well change for the worse as soon as MA is committed to the format...
  • DOC format question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mzwaterski (802371) on Friday March 25, 2005 @11:47AM (#12046328)
    I'm a little confused on the whole .DOC being a closed format issue. If OpenOffice can write documents in the proprietary .DOC format, why can't other programs? Am I missing the picture completely? Thanks for any explanation!
  • by Albanach (527650) on Friday March 25, 2005 @11:47AM (#12046331) Homepage
    With luck, other government agencies can force this position further. For example if you can't write in these formats, it emans Governemnts can't exchange doccuments for editing to anyone without effectively insisting they own a copy of Microsoft Office.If a governemnt organisation wishes to distribute a form to be completed, a spreadsheet to be filled in etc there are immediate problems.

    Equally this still presents a roblem for QUANGOS. Non government organisations that perform the delegated work of governments will not be able to produce doccuments without restriction on which programs can read them. This could present huge confusion for end users who can't be expected to know where that blurry line between organisations lies.

  • Keep DOC closed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SunPin (596554) <slashspam&cyberista,com> on Friday March 25, 2005 @11:51AM (#12046361) Homepage
    Does anybody really want to keep this format going? Let Microsoft do whatever the hell they want and focus on moving people to open source one person at a time.
  • God forbid the formats be opened up and Office should actually have to compete on technical and financial merit rather than vendor lockin!
  • by khrtt (701691) on Friday March 25, 2005 @12:04PM (#12046482)
    What, the party invented the aeroplane?

    Can someone explain (I'm not trolling here) how the heck did M$ manage to shove a patent in on a public format that's been around for ages?

    Or, is it some other issue than patents this time? I mean, XML-based formats are easily hackable, so M$ doesn't really need to spec it for you to write a converter, even though for a state government it would be logical to ask for a spec.
  • by Mrs. Grundy (680212) on Friday March 25, 2005 @12:04PM (#12046489) Homepage
    ...but I'm a little confused. Suppose I get a copy of a document in a format with a closed license. In what way am I bound to that license? When did I agree to it? Why would I ever need permission to from the creator of the format to read it? Is there some mysterious EULA that I accepted by being born? Or does this license only apply to people who create the documents with a microsoft application who have presumably agreed to some byzantine concept of ownership?
    • by drawfour (791912) on Friday March 25, 2005 @02:19PM (#12047672)
      Standard disclaimer: IANAL, and this is my intepretation from reading patent law.

      That said, patents have an interesting way of working. The patent holder can prevent the USE of his/her patent, even if it's non-commercial (aka private) use. This means that if the patent holder (Microsoft) gives a patent license that says you can READ them, then it doesn't matter who created the original Word document to begin with -- Microsoft has patented the format of that document, and any use of the propritary format falls under patent law. And patent law explicitely states that even USE of such a patent can enforced by the patent holder.

      The magic "EULA" that you accepted is US patent law, which applies to anyone in the United States. Just living here is the EULA.

      So, in a nutshell, the creator of that document owns a copyright on that document, but the format used to create that document is patented by Microsoft, so they get to enforce that patent and anyone who did not agree to their EULA can be sued.

      Of course, Microsoft doesn't really care about an individual user, but anyone writing a tool to write a file into their patented document type falls under the "distribution" clause of patents, and that company is fair game.
  • Partially Opens Proprietary XML Format

    1) Partially is not open
    2) Proprietary XML? Huh?
  • Wouldn't it just be SO easy to ditch DOC and start using HTML? All you'd need to do is have major corporations remove other options from the menu, so HTML would be the only option. Welcome to the new format. It's really easy. It's 100% compatable with even the most basic text editors. Although, Office does seem to produce butchered HTML (but only with images). Until they resolve this issue, I can dream.
    • We can't both preach that "HTML is a Markup Language, not a layout language" (which is true) and at the same time propose it as an alternative format for documents from programs in which exact fixed layout on a given medium (printed paper of a certain size) is expected. Web pages on the other hand resize and reflow and are supposed to adapt to different screen sizes and devices of different capabilities/fonts/etc.

      Two different types of files for two different purposes.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The FAQ [microsoft.com] states:

    Q. Can I distribute a program that can read and/or write files that support the Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas in source code form?

    A. Yes. You can distribute your program in source code form. But, note that the patent and copyright provisions in the license for the Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas require you to include a notice of attribution in your program.

    The GPL does not allow any additional restrictions beyond those of the GPL. The requirement for attribution is an additional

  • by SQLz (564901) on Friday March 25, 2005 @12:27PM (#12046700) Homepage Journal
    Here is my question, the MS patent on this XML format has not been fully accept right? The patent office is awaiting public comment. Has anyone gone to make a comment?

    Also, I don't even see how you can patent using open standard. I mean, XML was designed as method of storing data,amoung other things. How could the patent office possibly accept a patent where XML is simply being used to do what it was designed to do?

    I mean, to draw a parallel. The 110w outlet in the US is an industry standard right? I mean, everyone can make plugs and outlets royalty free and all the appliances and devices can plug into them for power. MS patenting XML to store a word processing file is like Sony patenting a TV that uses the 110w outlet, thereby blocking anyone else from doing it even though they didn't invent the outlet or the TV. The same holds true here. MS didn't invent XML, they didn't invent the word processor, nor did they invent storing a word processing file in XML. So, how in the hell can they apply for a patent on it? Just by paying money?
    • You are a little off the mark. MS does not have a patent on using XML to store a word processing document -- rather, they have a patent on their PARTICULAR format. In your example, it would be like Sony creating a very special power supply that plus into 110 (well, 120 these days, and, geez, I hope you meant volts and not watts...) and can drive a 100" TV at 5000 lumens but consumes only 12w. THAT they could patent.
    • XML was designed as method of storing data,amoung other things. How could the patent office possibly accept a patent where XML is simply being used to do what it was designed to do?

      Cookies were designed to identify returning browsers so that the website could connect them with data collected about them earlier, but Amazon got a patent for using cookies to identify returning browsers so that they could be connected to data collected about them earlier.

      Basically, the patent office is shit.

      TWW

    • They're patenting using a single XML file to store all the stuff about the document. Given that OOo doesn't do this, instead going through the clumsy step of using an uncompressed zipfile if you want to save an uncompressed document. (because an OOo document is a lot of XML files) it does seem a non-obvious step and so patentable.
  • 99% open... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pgilman (96092) <never&ga,in> on Friday March 25, 2005 @12:35PM (#12046788) Journal

    ...is 100% closed.

  • by vhogemann (797994) <victor&hogemann,com> on Friday March 25, 2005 @12:39PM (#12046834) Homepage
    I work for the municipal healthcare dep. at Rio de Janeiro City. Here at Brasil the federal gov. has stabilished a deadline to change most software to opensource or free equivalents by 2007.

    So, we started by enforcing the use of OpenOffice in every desktop. The process is simple, if someone want that old 450MHz Duron replaced by a new 2GHz Athlon they must use OpenOffice instead of MSOffice. Its amazing how this argument work!

    Mind you that we don't forbid the installation of MSOffice on this new machines. No sir, anyone can BUY and DONATE the licente to the city, so the software can be installed legaly on the computer. Heh, imagine how often it happens!

    The next step was to replace Lotus Notes (argh!) with PostFix + Cyrus running on Debian, and installing ThunderBird on every desktop. Most users just loved the change, because the Lotus Notes Client realy suck.

    To add an nice touch, every DOC file that pass trough the email system is converted into a PDF, for tha sake of virus-prevention... The only way to pass an editable document thought is to use OpenOffice native format!

    One day, I dream of substitute all W2k desktops with Ubuntu Hoary... and tell its just a new version of WindowsXP. With most of the users already using OpenOffice, ThunderBird and Firefox I gess none of the users will notice the change! ;-)
  • by AHumbleOpinion (546848) on Friday March 25, 2005 @12:54PM (#12046961) Homepage
    If you cared, and few really do, you could always have written an RTF file with word. RTF is documented and sample readers are available from Microsoft, http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url= /library/en-us/dnrtfspec/html/rtfspec.asp. Word and excel format used to be published, it hardly mattered with respect to Microsoft achieving dominance or helping the competition.
  • by NoMercy (105420) on Friday March 25, 2005 @01:24PM (#12047220)
    Patenting something is good, to protect inovation, if microsoft has created a invention which allows amazingly wierd complex data structures to be stored in a higherical structure easilly then they can patent that, but that wouln't be a patent on the XML file which stored the resulting structure.

    This patent seems to be on the arragement of data, if that arangement was chosen so a specific process can work on the data then patent that process with the data arangement, if not then this patent is for one thing and one thing only, anti-competitive behaviour, and as such shouln't be granted.
  • by hey! (33014) on Friday March 25, 2005 @02:06PM (#12047544) Homepage Journal
    The patent license says:

    You are not licensed to sublicense or transfer your rights.


    It's hard to say, but I'd read this to say that I can write GPL'd software, but anybody who wants to create a derivative work. would have to go the Microsoft web site and agree to the license.

    This is probably splitting hairs, but unless the format is released into the public domain or into an open licensed format, there is nothing that says Microsoft couldn't change their mind later and stop granting licneses. My license may be perpetual, but anyone who doesn't make it in the gate may be out of luck.

    Furthermore, this might allow Microsft to halt distribution of GPL'd implementations of their formats to people using the program for non-government purposes. Note this clarification:


    By way of clarification of the foregoing, given the unique role of government institutions, end users will not violate this license by merely reading government documents that constitute files that comply with the Microsoft specifications for the Office Schemas, or by using (solely for the purpose of reading such files) any software that enables them to do so. The term "government documents" includes public records.


    So, you can distribute your OpenOffice filter to people, but presumably only under the condition that they use it to read government documents.
  • by xutopia (469129) on Friday March 25, 2005 @02:20PM (#12047685) Homepage
    specifically of GPLed software. They are putting loads of effort to get around that but GPL software is creeping up everywhere and they don't know how to stop it.
  • by mpapet (761907) on Friday March 25, 2005 @02:22PM (#12047711) Homepage
    Microsoft can now say, "Office XML file format is available for anyone to read. This proves Microsoft is promoting open standards."

    Decision makers who don't care about the nuances of open standards or this issue, will put a check mark next to Open Standards in their features matrix.

    Meanwhile, MS develops MSXML solutions to extend their reach into lucrative corporate markets now populated by small companies.

    Don't mod me down (again) for the following, because this is the harsh reality.

    Alternative office suites may be able to read and write M$ XML all they want some day. Microsoft simply doesn't care because they aren't a real threat to their bottom line. *No* Office application competitor redefines the broad market or adds new overwhelming feature/value to the broad Office applications market. Period. You can imagine what MS would do if such a thing existed.

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