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A disappointing surprise from the SFLC - Gray Matter - Site Home - TechNet Blogs

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Gray Knowlton's blog on Microsoft Office

A disappointing surprise from the SFLC

A disappointing surprise from the SFLC

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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:

Irrevocable only for now

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.

OSP covers specifications not code

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.

No consistency with the GPL

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)."

  • Rhetorical Device? really Bruce? I was on the newspaper staff in school, not the debate team. I'm more concerned with discussing the issue than conducting a moderated forum.

    The arcile says that "Microsoft does not provide protection for Open XML with the OSP." Not only do we disagree with the words, Open XML already has many, many implmenetations (which include IBM, Google, Novell, Apple and others) to show for it.

    The SFLC piece is the thing I would take to be the "rhetorical device." -- nothing about it reflects the world we live in.

    The "Nobody can implement Open XML" argument ends here: http://blogs.technet.com/gray_knowlton/archive/2008/03/07/silverlight-viewer-for-open-xml.aspx

    and here:


    The "Sincerity" discussion ends here: http://blogs.technet.com/gray_knowlton/archive/2008/02/01/on-motivation-and-commitment-to-open-file-formats.aspx

  • gray, are you a lawyer?

  • Sorry Bruce, but I think you may have missed it. the IBM promise covers the 1.0 and 1.1 version of the ODF specification, and makes no mention of future versions. The Sun promise qualifies future versions based on their participation in OASIS and subsequent adherence to the OASIS IP rules.

    I'd like to remind folks that we have already committed to extending the OSP to DIS29500 in its post BRM modified form.

  • Shawn... if by "narrowly enough" you mean "exactly what was said by SFLC," then I'd agree.

  • The "Nobody can implement Open XML" argument ends here: http://blogs.technet.com/gray_knowlton/archive/2008/03/07/silverlight-viewer-for-open-xml.aspx

    Please define "implement" OOXML  ( ECMA and Microsoft have exhausted the argument of "there are sourceforge projects" that do this, do that ... but they are all 10% beta software )

    By the way, is not the same to call some .NET libraries


    to do the hard *independent* and not Microsoft-free work to implement this beast:



  • Unfortunately Orlando, nobody is talking about sourceforge projects here. (Unless Google is placing its XLSX >> HTML viewing code on Sourceforge, or Apple is putting the iWork sourc up there, or maybe Datawatch, Intergen, IBM, Nuance, Novell, NeoOffice, and so on and so on...)

    Sure, there are plenty of sourceforge projects and reference implementations, but there are 150 or so solutions profiled in the Office System Solutions Directory, and several more listed on www.opexmlcommunity.org.

    You'll never win an argument about Open XML not being implemented, we're well beyond that by now.

  • Gray Knowlton writes: "I was on the newspaper staff in school, not the debate team."

    Tee hee. Let's be clear that you are acting as a spokesperson for Microsoft, which has more than ample resources to coach you in how to divert and confuse an argument to its own benefit. As demonstrated by this following example:

    Gray Knowlton further writes: "Not only do we disagree with the words, Open XML already has many, many implmenetations (which include IBM, Google, Novell, Apple and others) to show for it."

    It is deceptive to imply that those companies rely on the OSP. They have patent cross-licenses with Microsoft.

    So much for sincerity.

  • Hi Gray,

    Thanks for the reply, although the insinuation that I'm parroting someone else's opinion is patronising and offensive. I won't lose any sleep over it though, we all know how inaccurate text messages are in conveying real meaning.

    I disagree with your statement "this is not a game of semantics". This standardisation process has so utterly disenfranchised all but the primary players, that commenting on blogs is about the only way interested consumers like me can have any input at all. You have missed (or deliberately twisted) the point of my post, and we could trade "clarifications" all day if either of us had the stomach for it.

    FYI, I do write software interacting with office productivity applications, but it's tangential to my work as an embedded developer and will never be released publicly. For example, I write bridging code to interface between OpenOffice Calc/ODF and Scilab, which gives me Scilab's scientific number-crunching ability combined with Calc's user interface and pretty pictures. XML wins for me! But you'll never convince me that having two competing office formats is in my best interests, especially when OOXML is shrouded in what I perceive as Microsoft's corporate abuse.

  • Hi Bruce, as far as I know, we have no interop agreement with Google. I could be wrong, but I've never seen one.

    Rob, sorry, I'm not accusing you of anything. And I think that for the most part, Don is a really nice guy, and some of the other NZ OSS people I had a chance to meet gave some excellent feedback on the spec. (Odd, again, however that Don Christie also preface a majority of comments with "I am offended by your remarks" as well).

    I'll reiterate my offer to you, in all seriousness. Because I think after reading your second comment, we definitely agree that sorting out the issues is very important. We might differ on the role of blog posts in doing so, this is why I've offered the mail alias to you for addressing specific concerns. If you have concerns, please use it.

    Stepping back for a minute, do you see how hard Microsoft is defending the IPR policy for Open XML? Could you understand why? -- it's not because we want to meet the goals of the process (the ISO process would not have begun withouth passing ISO IPR guidelnies, that was addressed a long time ago), it's because we are keenly interested in the adoption of Open XML. Does it make sense for us to propose a standard then prevent people from implementing it? -- I don't think so.

  • Gray,

    Perhaps it's just a Kiwi trait to be suspicious of convicted anti-competitive monopolists, and to be offended by insinuations of plagiarism when offering one's own opinion. I'll take your recommendations on board, and deeply consider whether either of those characteristics is in need of adjustment.

  • Gray Knowlton writes: "as far as I know, we have no interop agreement with Google. I could be wrong, but I've never seen one."

    You are not seriously proposing that Google is at any risk of patent aggression from Microsoft. Agreements under NDA may exist, and even if they don't, Google has a sufficient arsenal of legal talent, capital, and blocking patents on Microsoft's own activities that they can enforce a detente, or worse, upon Microsoft.

    Your statement, again, was: "The arcile says that "Microsoft does not provide protection for Open XML with the OSP." Not only do we disagree with the words, Open XML already has many, many implmenetations (which include IBM, Google, Novell, Apple and others) to show for it."

    It is deceptive to imply that any of those folks - especially Google - have to rely on the OSP.

  • Well, Bruce, I don't think we have a "big rich companies" section of the OSP, I think it applies equally to big and small companies.

    Check out the Office System Solutions directory, and search for the Open XML technology area. There are 142 solutions listed there, most of them from smaller technology companies. Check out www.openxmlcommunity.org... see the applications there.

    I'm not trying to hide anything here, Google (pick your favorite big company) and Datawatch (Pick your favorite small company) have the same protection for Open XML under the OSP.

  • "As far as recounting the entire history of Microsoft legal activity, again, it's not really something that is helpful."

    If you want to convince people that the leopard has changed his shorts, you have to show people what the shorts look like on the leopard. Microsoft has a higher barrier to acceptance than IBM or Sun because Microsoft has a history of behaving worse than IBM and Sun. To overcome that barrier, Microsoft may have to make stronger commitments, show conclusively that they are stronger, and show that they can stand behind them. This may be unfair to you, personally, and to the people you're working with, but you can't just pretend the leopard isn't in the room.

  • I'm curious to know why you say that the GPL is open to interpretation. If that's the case, wouldn't the OSP be the same? It sounds like a think layer of FUD to me.

    The careful choice of language sounds to me like another Microsoft attempt to embrace, extend and extinguish.

    I'm sorry, you failed to convince me of the sincerity of Microsoft.

  • What is the test applied to become an ISO standard?

    Is it compliance with ISO policies, or something other than that?

    Seems that SFLC and others are trying to propose a new and different test for ISO adoption, or to divert attention away from the real test.  

    At least as far as this discussion revolves around the ISO consideration of Open XML, it is quite clear that the ISO rules have been met.

    Even if all we want to do is "butt and bray" against everything about Open XML and Microsoft in general, the IPR points re Open XML  seem a fruitless path at this stage.  It is too late to seek a change in the rules in this process, and everyone is in favor of playing by the rules.  

    And based on its proposed test, SFLC presumably objects to quite a number of existing ISO standards.  Considering how far the OSP does go, Open XML should be the very least of SFLC's worries.