Microsoft announced a commitment to publishing its document formats this past week under the umbrella of Interoperability Principles,
including document formats for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more - with an intent to document most if not all of their communication formats. Naturally, there are still issues, but it's still a good thing to see.
Microsoft recognizes that in an increasingly interconnected computing landscape, enabling interoperability between products from different vendors has become more important than ever. Spurred in part by the standards-based nature of the Internet, the computing industry has made great strides toward achieving effective interoperability between a wide range of products to meet customer needs. But customers are demanding more from all software companies.
For its part, Microsoft recognizes the important responsibilities that it bears by virtue of the mission-critical use of its products by customers worldwide on a daily basis. Certain Microsoft products (Windows Vista including the .NET Framework, Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007, and future versions of these products, referred to in this document as "high-volume products") have become so central to operational continuity of customers’ businesses that interoperability and data portability solutions are more valued than ever.
What's good about this is that they've done it: the Word document format looks like it's, well, real. (It's listed along with PPT and XSL formats on their Microsoft Office Binary (doc, xls, ppt) File Formats
page, distributed in PDF and XPS format.)
Red Hat wants more, saying that MS should make three more commitments:
- Open standards - ODF instead of OOXML, for example. The release from RH says, specifically, "Microsoft, please demonstrate implementation of an existing international open standard now rather than make press announcements about intentions of future standards support."
- A commitment to interoperability with open source, claiming that Microsoft isn't going far enough.
Instead of offering a patent license for its protocol information on the basis of licensing arrangements it knows are incompatible with the GPL – the world’s most widely used open source software license – Microsoft should extend its Open Specification Promise to all of the interoperability information that it is announcing today will be made available. The Open Specification Promise already covers many Microsoft products that do not have monopoly market positions.This one confuses me; I've tried to read the restrictions MS places, and while I can see it not being compatible with the GPL, I think a legally binding statement on MS' part that says "We won't sue you if you won't sue us" is ... enough. (Of course, I'm not a lawyer, and it's possible I'm misunderstanding some issues here.)
- Lastly, Red Hat wants a commitment to competition on a level playing field:
Microsoft's announcement ... appears carefully crafted to foreclose competition from the open source community. How else can you explain a "promise not to sue open source developers" as long as they develop and distribute only/non-commercial" implementations of interoperable products?The reference here is to the Interoperability Principles, Part I.5, which states:
Open Source Compatibility. Microsoft will covenant not to sue open source developers for development and non-commercial distribution of implementations of these Open Protocols.
It's an interesting problem. The last point - about not prosecuting those who distribute non-commercial implementations of the protocols - does seem to be a bit scary - lacking further clarification, it could be that any vendor who does
sell a product to access these document formats might be open to a lawsuit, on the assumption that use of the binary format implied use of the interoperability promise. (In that case, I'm already out of the running for commercial use of the protocols; I've read the .doc format. Again, I am not a lawyer, nor do I wish to play one on TV or anywhere else.)
What does the TSS community think? Is this a good thing altogether, or not enough of the right thing? Anyone want to step up and work out the exact ramifications of the promise, from a licensing/legal standpoint?