Microsoft Corp. today announced that it has voted to support the addition of OpenDocument Format (ODF) 1.0 to the nonexclusive American National Standards list. The vote took place as part of a process managed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
Another new standard that the company anticipates will be approved for ANSI’s list is the recently ratified ECMA Open XML File Formats. Known in standards-body circles as ECMA-376, the new open standard is under review by ISO, with a final vote expected in late 2007 or early 2008 following a ballot vote in early September.
There are a couple of points to make in addition to those well-stated by Bob. First, Microsoft is using the press release to issue this open challenge to ODF supporters: "We’re voting for your standard. So we expect you to vote for ours."
Of course, there’s a bit of a back story to this challenge. You may recall that when ODF was submitted to ISO/IEC JTC1 for adoption, Microsoft joined the INCITS subcommittee entitled to vote on behalf of America for adoption. To its credit, Microsoft then voted in favor of ODF – without even appending any negative reservations. Of course, when OOXML came up for adoption at Ecma, IBM cast the only negative vote against it, as one of the small number of companies entitled to vote to adopt (there were 13 members entitled to vote, if memory serves; I think HP abstained, and the remaining 11 members all voted to approve).
By issuing this press release, Microsoft is therefore making it appear that it is rising above the squabble to do the right thing, and therefore setting the stage to make IBM, Sun, or anyone else that supports ODF look bad if they later vote against OOXML when/if it comes around. Of course, there are differences, and other reasons why companies might vote against OOXML – there already would be an American National Standard, there would presumably still be only one complete implementation of OOXML, and so on.
The press release also fits within the overall spin that Microsoft adopted a few months ago, first presented by Microsoft Office Program Manager Brian Jones’ blog, in which he announced that it had become clear that we have "two winners" in the fomat contest – OOXML and ODF.
But there is a second point to note, and this one is more revealing, I think. For the first time (that I’m aware of), Microsoft started talking in the Fortune piece about a specific number of patents – 45 – that it claims OpenOffice (and presumably any other implementation of ODF) would infringe. So on the one hand, Microsoft is saying "Nice standard you’ve got there," while on the other hand, warning "Implement it if you dare, but only for a price."
I’m not a cynical person by nature and I tried to watch my tone here, but a stunt is a stunt. I had hoped for better.
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"Microsoft started talking in the Fortune piece about a specific number of patents – 45 – that it claims OpenOffice (and presumably any other implementation of ODF)"
Why in the world would one presume that any other implementation of ODF would also allegedly infringe those patents? Unless you have some inside knowledge about the patents in question (and I seriously doubt Microsoft would have given you any) for all you know those patents have nothing to do with XML or the document format at all.
Bear in mind that we’re talking about patents here, and not copyrights. A standard such as ODF sets quite a bit of the framework within which any patentable inventions would have to exist. So while I don’t know for a fact that every ODF implementation would violate the same patents, it’s a pretty reasonable assumption that they probably do. You don’t try to go from points C, D and E to get from A to B unless you have to.
Think of a bicycle, with patents for a "steering mechanism" (handlebars), a "drive train" (pedals, sprockets, and chain) and "mobility devices " (spoked wheels – two of them). Could you build another kind of mechanism to tool around on that didn’t look like a bicycle? Sure. Would you, if you didn’t have to (i.e., if the patents hadn’t all expired)? Well, you can find hundreds of models of bicycles, every one of which would infringe upon the basic patents that originally came out, and most of the later ones as well (caliper breaks, multi-sprockey – derailleur shifters, and so on).
So yes, I think my statement is likely to be pretty much right, and certainly right enough to validate the point.
I’m sure you do believe it.
Now, can you demonstrate that one of the patents in question has nothing to do with spell checking?
Can you demonstrate that one of the patents in question has nothing to do with change tracking?
Can you demonstrate that one of the patents in question has nothing to do with kerning? Pagination? Versioning?
You get the idea. All of these are features found in both pieces of software that have nothing to do with document formats. Quite frankly, I’d be surprised if a number of the patents Microsoft has in mind have nothing to do with document formats.
OK, let’s say you’re right on each point. That just takes us back to the original statement, which was that presumably the same patents could be asserted against every other ODF implementation.
Unless of course, an implementation doesn’t have a spell checker, change tracking, kerning, pagination or versioning. So the result is the same, whether or not it’s as a result of being ODF-compliant. Sure, there might be a few of the 45 patents that the other implementation missed, but then there would just be other ones that it would hit.
"Unless of course, an implementation doesn’t have a spell checker, change tracking, kerning, pagination or versioning."
Only if there was one way to do each of those things…