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by Franki

Microsoft has long received criticism for using proprietary undisclosed file formats to lock your data away where you can’t get it without Microsoft’s products or licenses. The problem with that approach is that the data belongs to you, you should not have to rely on an outside party for access to your own property. Anyway, to try to address this concern, Microsoft released the specification schemas for Office 2003 which will be the default file format for the version of Office due out next year. The release is “royalty free” meaning that you need not pay Microsoft for the use of the schemas. The problem is that the license is designed to exclude Microsoft’s biggest competitor GPL licensed Open Source programs. In short Microsoft requires that any software that is able to read/write to their format attribute that code to Microsoft, it seems that even if it doesn’t contain any of their code and is instead just an implementation of the bare essentials required to access them it must still attribute to Microsoft in the code.

There are some in the Open Source community that believe that there may be no enforcable rights that Microsoft can claim in the new license and that licences may not be required in this instance, but that is an issue probably best decided by lawyers. The fact is that if the license is required, it is not compatible with the GPL, which is the licence that the vast majority of true Open Source software is released under.

The fact that Microsoft is trying to lock out GPL developers is hardly surprising as they are doing something very similar in the EU as part of their punishment for being found guilty of anti-competitive practises in the European Union. They were told that they must make their server protocols available to competitors so as to improve interoperability but have again done so in a manner that locks out their biggest competitor, GPL licensed software.

The only truly open document standard at this time appears to be the OASIS XML OpenDocument format used by StarOffice/OpenOffice. This file format is completely open and can be adopted by anybody with a desire to do so, including Microsoft. But don’t expect them to support it any time soon as to do so would lessen the impact of their own less open format and make it easier for people to swap to competitive Office suites and Microsoft would apparently prefer not to compete on price and features if they don’t have to. It should be noted that Microsoft’s XML based file format is NOT currently approved by OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards).

I dream of a world where any text document/spreadsheet/presentation/database can be opened and saved by any Office application suite and that the only reason to choose one over another is the feature set and price of that Office suite. I suspect however, that Microsoft will be one of the last to join that party and will only do so when they are forced to by declining market share. Governments have become much more aware recently of the need to keep their information in non proprietary formats, so Microsoft may be pressured (by sales or the lack thereof) to comply sooner then expected. Governments make up a fairly significant portion of Microsoft Office sales.

You can get a more detailed look at the issue by reading Eweek’s write-up of the problem.

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  Time  in  Don's  part  of the world is:   January 19, 2019, 8:13 pm
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