back to article Free software lawyers warn over Microsoft patent pledge

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has warned that promises made by Microsoft over its Office Open XML (OOXML) document formats could leave open source software developers at risk of legal action. The SFLC found a number of shortcomings in Microsoft’s Open Specification Promise (OSP). The OSP document was first written by …


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  1. yeah, right.

    Wrong again.

    "Last autumn the majority voted no to adopting it as an international standard file format."

    Actually, they voted no to allowing OOXML to be adopted using the fast track procedure, not to adopting it as an international standard altogether. That's also what the upcoming vote is about. If that one goes as it should and they vote no again, then Microsoft will still be able to submit its pile of garbage for the regular adoption process.

  2. Anonymous Coward


    I dont understand what all the fuss is about. As far as I know just because somthing is a "standard" dosent meen it should be free. Why are they not going after the owners of the USB patant, or DVD's..??

  3. cor
    Jobs Horns

    The irony of it all...

    ..think about it: Microsoft setting a universal standard. LOL.

    Ask the W3C about MS and standards...

  4. alistair millington
    Thumb Up


    I think part of it is what M$ will do. They don't want you using their stuff.

    You pay a premium of a few cents and you can have a DVD and use it's name. USB is the same. They are plug in and play devices and work. Out of the box, no installation because as a standard everyone can use the drivers and it works.

    M$ wouldn't be like that with their standards, they would most likely use there normal bullying business practices and simply say no, sorry. It would kill off development to M$ developers and Vista and their new Home server are prime examples of that level of expertise. Would you want them being the only ones to control a standard. Like how IE mangled the internet. how Vista with the world already using graphiocs and file sharing and networks and copying and pasting etc. Yet they can't even work within existing standards without messing that up.

    It's not that it is free, it is that other people outside M$ had a hand in making it standard. 50 companies that run the world meeting to discuss something or one bunch of Rtards that think Vista works. Do the math.

  5. Phil Hare
    Paris Hilton

    I think...

    ...that El Reg probably has a capable enough readership to define an all conquering standard for office type files. It should be called the Paris Hilton XML Office Type File Standard Thingy. Rolls off the tongue.

  6. Don Mitchell


    It's about turf. Microsoft became famous and wealthy and widely used, and that made the academic/hacker community envious. It's also about the structure of political mass movements. As Eric Hoffer said, you can have a mass movement without a god, but you must have a devil. Look at any political mass movement, and there is some person, company, race or religion who are demonized to help mobilize its followers. If Microsoft does A, they will be criticized. If they do not-A, they wll be criticized.

    I always enjoyed that Orwellian page on the GNU site, about words you shouldn't use ( I wonder when they are going to ban "freetard". :-)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    What's the problem?

    Anything that might help to keep MS in the position of being the humungous clumsy fat guy with the flashing neon bullseye on his back is a good thing. Means the rest of us are less desirable targets.

    Obviously not much sympathy here for MS users.

  8. Nexox Enigma


    The scary thing is that MS is going to get its OOXML deal approved as an international standard, then block everyone else from making compatable software. This means that Office can still be used in all the governments that require an open standard format, but that they're still locked into using only Office.

    The entire point of a standard is that you then have multiple choices of software to use with your data. And Microsoft is going to try really hard to make sure that you have exactly one choice.

    So if they vote this in, well they're all a bunch of fucking morons that missed the point all together.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    All proprietary "standards" are problems

    Keep in mind that DVDs are still troublesome for free software. My university is afraid to distribute VLC on a PC image because of libdvdcss, even though it legally circumvents CSS (but that legality hasn't been tested in a U.S. court). No major FOSS distro I know of ships libdvdcss for this reason.

    All proprietary "standards" are inevitably at odds with free software, even if the effects of many of them aren't noticed by the average user. Try writing some free software that plays nice with Microsoft's protocols/file formats/"standards" and you'll see what I mean.

  10. Paul
    Thumb Down


    "I dont understand"

    Learn to always read between the lines where Microsoft are concerned, then perhaps you will, grasshopper. Microsoft are a taker, and people who trust a taker get taken.

    "patent protections that only apply to current versions"

    In other words, there's nothing *on paper* to stop them updating the "standard" then suing you if you try to keep up with it. Whoopee, you get to freely use a document format that they can render obsolete with just a version bump.

    Why aren't they going after DVD/USB/etc? Because, you plonker, it's got nothing to do with them being free or not: DVD and USB in each of it's versions are consortium-based standards. Changing them would require group consensus, and typically the group won't agree to anything which breaks the standard. The legal foundation remains stable as a result. They don't *have* to go after them, because you get your license and you're good to go.

    By comparison, MS have full control over OOXML, giving them the power to break the "standard", but still call it OOXML, while pulling the legal mat out from under everyone else by only covering the versions prior to the change. So you get your licence and it might be useless in 6 months. Maybe you have to cough up for a licence for the new version, or maybe you didn't understand the licence limitations and open yourself up to legal action.

  11. Mark
    Gates Halo

    Retards who say freetards

    Do you have to pay J Whitworth's estate for making a 1/4 Whitworth screw fixing? Do you have to pay Napoleon's estate for the 30cm ruler?


    Why? Because they are standards. Asking for people to pay to implement a standard would stop the poor people from using the standards.

    It isn't a standard, then, is it.

  12. David

    Microsoft ISO standard

    A Microsoft ISO standard is an oxymoron.

    Microsoft only exist to take your money that is all. If that means that they need to be a standards bearer to do it then so be it. If it means that they ignore standards, then so be it.

    So wake up and smell the coffee. They are only interested in money and power plays. Standards or not, only serve this purpose and therefore standards are not important in themselves to them. This is not good for everybody but them.

    If the ISO agree to use the Microsoft file format as a standard, then I can only say that ISO is a joke and have no idea of what is going on. In that case I would conclude that they are a bunch of old farts with no idea of what is happening today and why the Internet is so innovative and Windows is not.

  13. Bob Howard

    @AC 'All proprietary "standards" are problems'

    Sabayon linux comes with libdvdcss as standard, but you have the choice to add it or not during install...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    To be a document or not to be a document

    Since when can you call a zip file with a xml sheet inside a document... Bah ha ha!

  15. Bob

    DVDs vs. Office Documents

    The difference between a DVD and an office document is that everyone produces zillions of documents and spreadsheets, but only a small number of organizations produce DVDs or USB devices or whatnot.

    It is important that every software developer be able to write software that reads and writes office documents in the standard format. Why? Today we all have OpenOffice and MS Office, and this debate is too often framed in terms of a contest between those two applications. But that misses the issue. Everyone produces office documents, and in the future there will be zillions of pieces of software to read them, analyze them, write them, index them, transfer them, etc. For example, the database application I wrote does a simple mail merge, producing an ODF file as a result.

    Some of the software that processes office documents is GPL'd, some is under commercial licenses, some under public domain. Excluding an entire class of software from being able to read and process office documents would not be good for society. What would things be like if commercial software were able to do mail merges, but GPL'd software was not able to do mail merges, at least not in a document format that anyone can read with their other programs? That's kind of like what we have today in terms of commercial OS's being able to play DVD's, but not Linux distros.

    But it's worse, because processing office documents is an essential feature for computers, while playing DVDs is not. You put a lot of work in making your documents, and you should be able to use any software you wish to process them. After all, they're YOUR documents, not Microsoft's.

  16. Kristin McKechie

    The issue is not who owns the standard, but whether the standard will last!

    Personally I couldn't give a monkey's if MicroWhoEver defines the stardard for Office Documents... What I care about is whether I will have the ability to read a document I create in ten, twenty, one hundred years from now!

    I have ABSOLUTELY NO FAITH that Microsoft will be able to guarantee me peace of mind in that regard! I have been in this industry too long, and seen Microsoft jump tracks too many times to give them the benefit of the doubt in this regard again.

    I work in IT for Government related matters, and I can tell you straight that our prime concern is the issue of ensuring that public documents will always be available. MS Office has gone through so many variations, (and will in all likelihood continue to do so), that it is now not possible to guarantee the taxpayer that we can meet our statutory obligations in respect to permanent record keeping in the future.

    If OOXML becomes a 'standard' and we are all railroaded into continued reliance on a single vendor for provision of the means to store, retrieve and display public records, then I fear for the future of our children. We will be at the mercy of that orgainsation's whim to change it's standard, potentially causing the loss of access to the history on which government is based.

    Imaginge how 'inconvienient' it might be for you if you suddenly get told that you cannot prove that you paid your water rates ten years becuase the your local council cannot read its old records any more?

  17. Mark
    Gates Horns

    How about BSD?

    They can't produce a working version of an MSOOXML reader, even though this license is one that MS *likes*!

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Why the 'Freetard' label?

    I'm getting sick of people constantly banging on about 'Freetards' as if we're some sort of parasite feeding off other peoples efforts and expecting something for nothing. FREE software - may I remind those in the M$ camp - is about FREEDOM, not free as in beer. M$ have no concept of freedom, only of vendor lock-in. As someone else here pointed out - it's about power, domination and control. If it was genuinely about the software and customer satisfaction and committing to standards they'd never have released IE or Vista when they did, OOXML wouldn't be an issue, they'd adopt odf along with everyone else as THE de facto standard without dispute, and the guy here from the government wouldn't be worrying about forward or backward compatibility with historic documents. We have the same issue, btw, we have to store our accounts records for 7 years but we scan them digitally and save them as very small tiff images. But will they be readable in 7 years time?? Freedom to innovate is a bit rich coming from a software house that has always acquired it's 'innovation' with their 'eee' policy by buying out other people.

  19. DR

    a format that will last in 20 years

    why not write in HTML?

    or plain text.

    this comment is written in plain text, and unless something very *very* drastic changes it'll still be around in 20 years.

    the intersting thing about this comment is that whilst there are no text formatting the line feeds and emphasizing of words still seems to work.

    I don't feel the problem here is necessarily a standards issue so much as an idiocy issue, we don't need new improved latest and greatest files, than can embed all kinds of crap in them. we need less standards being maed and more standards being standardized and adhered to...

  20. Mark

    Re: a format that will last in 20 years

    So how do you put a spreadsheet in HTML? ASCII text?

    How does HTML manage to keep legal references ("on page 32, it states...")? How well does it manage indexes and bibliographies?

    How do you put a graph in there? A diagram? Music? Video? Equations?

    How do you store your database connection?

    How do you include meta-data like edit history? Comments?

    An office suite nowadays has much more than just "A printed page" as its' remit. Else "Microsoft Office" would be only "Microsoft Word". And even the plain old word processor does a lot more than what ASCII or HTML can manage.

    Now if you expand HTML to contain these new items, you're basically doing what ODF does (and reuses the standards like SGML and MathML in the same way as you'd upgrade HTML to manage it).

    So why not use ODF.

    Please note that the ODF consortium had not just software designers on there but included library custodians, archivists and pre-print organisations. The reason Open Office was not first to implement ODF was because they used what the ODF consortium took as a basis and they modified it merely to support what they changed in Open Office. The ODF consortium changed it to cope with the needs of people who used the information and stored it.

    So HTML doesn't manage to do what's needed. Modifying it so it can manage the needs of the modern office suite is as much work as creating ODF and hasn't been done yet.

    And note: HTML is not patent encumbered and so there's no "promise not to sue" to read carefully to see whether it applies to you. You just write the program that uses the STANDARD. Completely different from MSOOXML and the same as ODF.

  21. Anonymous Coward


    Think your a little misguided, no sorry, you are massively misguided.

    " They are plug in and play devices and work. Out of the box, no installation because as a standard everyone can use the drivers and it works."

    The reason USB works is because Microsoft CHOOSE to implement it and Microsoft wrote code to make it "Plug and Play (TM)".

    Do you really think that it just works? It doesn't use some magic Voodoo trickery and just work. Microsoft actually have to write code for it "just work", as do Linux and Mac programers.

    As for that DVD, what do you think make the pretty pictures appear on the magic box? Oh silly me, the pictures are stored on the disc and a big magnifying glass makes them appear on the screen

    I suggest that you learn about a little about computers, before shooting your gob off.

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