I could make a full time job of tearing down the "say anything we possibly can" approach to Open XML opposition. Seems like we're seeing a new level of arm-flailing and finger pointing, now that we are weeks away from the close of the post BRM period. I wanted to offer some comments about the SFLC's analysis of the OSP. This is an unfortunate report, these all represent issues that have been raised in a campaign that includes innuendo and supposition, leaving out inconvenient information and language and ignoring the same, similar, or less attractive, language that exists for ODF.
The big news in this is their admission/confirmation that the OSP is in fact compatible with the GPL. They say "The OSP cannot be relied upon by GPL developers for their implementations not because its provisions conflict with the GPL but because it does not provide the freedom that the GPL requires." They go on to identify that "freedom" being linked to the OSP being unsafe is because new versions of the specifications could be excluded from the OSP in the future.
It is unusual for promises like the OSP to automatically include every spec or all future versions (IBM's pledge is exactly like ours). The norm is for new versions to be added to them to be covered. In the case of Sun's statement new versions are automatically added only when they participate in the development of the new version to the extent that the OASIS IPR rules would then obligate them to provide patent rights under the OASIS IPR Policy. None of these promises include future versions of the specifications without any qualification.
Let's deal with the points one by one:
This section points out that the OSP only applies to listed versions of covered specifications. True, except that we have already committed to extending it to ISO/IEC DIS 29500 when it is approved in our filing with ISO/IEC. For ODF, IBM in their ISP takes the identical approach. Strange how things that seem appropriate for ODF are not appropriate for Open XML.
Not true. The OSP is a promise to not assert patents that are necessarily infringed by implementations of covered specifications. Like all similar patent non-asserts (including the Sun and IBM versions for ODF) the promise covers that part of a product that implements that specification (and not other parts that have nothing to do with the specification). While the Sun covenant is silent about conformance to the specification, the OSP allows implementers the freedom to implement any (or all) parts of a covered specification and to the extent they do implement those portions (also known as conform to those parts) they are covered by the promise for those parts. Contrast that to the IBM pledge that requires total conformance and so programming errors or absence of something required by the spec (but not by an implementer's product) means that the promise is totally void for that product.
Not true. As far as we are concerned we are happy to extend the OSP to implementers who distribute their code under any copyright license including the GPL. The FAQ cited just states what everyone knows and acknowledges, the GPL is a copyright license that is drafted in a way that leaves many issues (not just those related to patent rights) open to many interpretations. Any particular user or implementer should read the GPL carefully and make their own judgment about what it means and requires in accordance with their own circumstances. The FAQ states that Microsoft is not in a position to give blanket advice about the GPL to others. They missed these two FAQs for some reason...
"Q: Is the Open Specification Promise intended to apply to open source developers and users of open source developed software?
A: Yes. The OSP applies directly to all persons or entities that make, use, sell, offer for sale, imports and/or distributes an implementation of a Covered Specification. It is intended to enable open source implementations, and in fact several parties in the open source community have specifically stated that the OSP meets their needs. Moreover there are already a significant number of implementations of Covered Specifications that have been created and/or distributed under a variety of open source licenses as well as under proprietary software development models. Because open source software licenses can vary you may want to consult with your legal counsel to understand your particular legal environment.
Q: Is this Promise consistent with open source licensing, namely the GPL? And can anyone implement the specification(s) without any concerns about Microsoft patents?
A: The Open Specification Promise is a simple and clear way to assure that the broadest audience of developers and customers working with commercial or open source software can implement the covered specification(s). We leave it to those implementing these technologies to understand the legal environments in which they operate. This includes people operating in a GPL environment. Because the General Public License (GPL) is not universally interpreted the same way by everyone, we can't give anyone a legal opinion about how our language relates to the GPL or other OSS licenses, but based on feedback from the open source community we believe that a broad audience of developers can implement the specification(s)."
Gray Knowlton wrote:
"The FAQ cited just states what everyone knows and acknowledges, the GPL is a copyright license that is drafted in a way that leaves many issues (not just those related to patent rights) open to many interpretations. Any particular user or implementer should read the GPL carefully and make their own judgment about what it means and requires in accordance with their own circumstances. The FAQ states that Microsoft is not in a position to give blanket advice about the GPL to others."
Let me se whether I understand this. MS promises NOT to sue people who implement some aspects of DIS29500.
(Incidently, they refuse to give a list of covered elements. The DIS29500 is a closed set of elements and features. So those covered by the OSP or not can be enumerated, as can the patents covering them. There is absolutely no excuse NOT to list them.)
Then MS say they do NOT know whether they will sue people who implement these aspects of DIS29500 and distribute them under the GNU GPL.
This is a promise that MS' makes. So MS should know whom they want to sue and whom they don't want to sue.
If MS doesn't know whom they want to sue, how should I know? They wrote the promise, not I or the FSF.
For many, it boils down to credibility. The recent shenanigans at the BRM destroyed what little credibility ECMA had left, did essentially the same to Microsoft and seriously damaged ISO credibility in the process.
Also, to the average informed reader, Bruce Perens credibility is unimpeached, whilst yours is simply unestablished.
The OSP is incredible -- I mean in the literal sense of the word, not the colloquial. A developer would be a fool to build anything that depended upon the OSP for protection.
The flood of highly negative comments to this particular blog posting from a few people boils down to this:
Despite explicit and clear assurances from Microsoft, there are *some* people who will never trust it to do what it promises.
You know what? It doesn't matter in the least what these particular people think.
What does matter is that the vast majority of developers who wish or need to develop solutions that utilize OOXML have no such issues.
The proof of this is the 300 or so OOXML applications that have been developed in the last couple of years. And, with the announcement today of the roadmap for the release of the OOXML SDK, that number can be expected to increase very significantly in the next few years.
The recent "analysis" by SFLC and the negative comments to this blog posting should be seen for what they really are: a last-ditch desperate attempt to create confusion and negativism in the weeks leading up to the approval of DIS 29500 (OOXML) by the ISO, in the hope that a few NBs will thereby vote against acceptance.
"The flood of highly negative comments to this particular blog posting from a few people boils down to this: Despite explicit and clear assurances from Microsoft, there are *some* people who will never trust it to do what it promises."
The clear assurance is not clear. Otherwise, why would be be having this discussion?
"It doesn't matter in the least what these particular people think."
And you wonder why *some* people don't feel comfortable with Microsoft if that's their attitude?
"What does matter is that the vast majority of developers who wish or need to develop solutions that utilize OOXML have no such issues."
And how many ODF developers have issues with ODF? Why does Microsoft _refuse_ to support ODF in Microsoft Office, when then still support stuff like RTF? It doesn't sound like a technical issue for me, but a competitive issue.
"The proof of this is the 300 or so OOXML applications that have been developed in the last couple of years. And, with the announcement today of the roadmap for the release of the OOXML SDK, that number can be expected to increase very significantly in the next few years."
And how many of those are direct competitors to Microsoft Office? It doesn't sound to me like it's opening up the playing field much to me -- especially is Microsoft is the one nudging Novell to write the OOXML parser for OOo.
"The recent "analysis" by SFLC and the negative comments to this blog posting should be seen for what they really are: a last-ditch desperate attempt to create confusion and negativism in the weeks leading up to the approval of DIS 29500 (OOXML) by the ISO, in the hope that a few NBs will thereby vote against acceptance."
Funny, I was thinking the same about Microsoft -- A last-ditch desperate attempt to create confusion and negativism in the weeks leading up to the approval of DIS 29500 (OOXML) by the ISO in the hope that a few NBs will thereby vote with acceptance.
I have difficulty understanding why XML is considered sacred when it comes to implementation of a standard. XML is just a wrapper for data. It does not define the data, that is left as an exercise for the user.
XML is just the bucket. The water that goes in the bucket is what is wanted and needed.
Just because MicroSoft took some data and wrapped an XML schema around it does not mean that the data is any more accessible than it was before. If you do not have the decoder ring for the data then it is still locked. Including binary blobs in an XML wrapper does not make the binary data any more accessible than if it was just written directly to a file.
You should stop with the smoke and mirrors and realize that MicroSoft is not interested in competing on a fair basis. It is just like when Bill Gates took Basic and ported it to the Altair and then claimed that anybody that used it without paying him was a thief. Who was the thief?
Wow - this looks like the comments thread on some of my postings. :-) Some thoughts for the group:
1) No matter what your opinion of the OSP is, the fact is that the JTC 1 directives call for specifications to meet RAND or RAND with zero royalty terms. DIS 29500 does this - so any assertion that there is an IPR concern that should prevent the approval of the DIS is simply wrong. The JTC 1 directives are meant to be applied uniformly and fairly. Also, the same RAND with royalty free terms check box was applied to ODF. The entire argument is a FUD mechanism to affect the outcome of the vote.
2) The OSP, Suns CNS, and IBMs CNS are all very similar instruments. None are licenses, all are effectively "promises," and all were designed to provide a bridge for free software developers to be more comfortable in implementing a given specification within the context of any of the GPLs. The simple fact remains that there is a fundamental philosophical difference regarding software patents and that choice puts the Free Software licenses at odds with the vast majority of existing software standardization. Does it matter? Only if a rights holder raises a complaint. In the case of Open XML - Microsoft has promised (irrevocably, and in a legally binding fashion) not to do so.
3) The whole argument about future versions is completely bogus. The Sun CNS and IBM CNS do the exact same thing. Lawyers are funny about trying to predict the future. They tend to be focused on concrete things - like versions they know about. This is NOT unique to the Microsoft OSP and is another red herring argument.
4) The amount of completely out of scope comments on this blog reflect the real nature of this discussion. Rational technical and factual arguments long ago stopped being the issue. Really too bad.
My last comment on this topic is this: Ian, you said it best of all... more than 75% of the hits on this post originated from Groklaw, which should give you a hint about who has the motivation to sustain this discussion.
In REALITY, this issue was over a long time ago.
For those of you desperate to uncover a grand conspiracy, sit and watch for a while and see what happens... when we take no action against people impelementing Open XML, and when we post more open source projects for file format conversion, and more SDK's and have more products supporting the formats, etc., will you be disappointed? or will you be satisifed?