ODF/XML Notes and Reports from All Over (Installment V)

The action continues thick and fast, including a letter of protest from the Computer and Communications Industry Association to Ecma.

As anyone knows who has been making half an effort to keep track, it’s been a busy week in the ODF/XML neighborhood. Here are some highlights:


Monday: (1) IBM announces that its Managed Services Client will support ODF. It also sends a letter supporting ODF (and more) to Governor Romney, as previously reported here, and as commented on by David Berlind, among others, here. David observes yet another significant difference between the Silicon Valley and Route 128 ways of doing things, noting as follows:



For example, although Novell is now headquartered here and it appears to have sided with IBM and Sun, it hasn’t made a tenth of the stink that IBM and Sun have. And then there are other Massachusetts’ headquartered IT companies like EMC, RSA, and Akamai (all in attendance at the TechNet dinner) that have stayed on the sidelines. My understanding is that quite the opposite happens in Silicon Valley; that when certain out-of-town technology companies look to influence local or national legislation, that Silicon Valley-headquartered companies will actually cross party lines to stand together to keep the out-of-state “invaders” at bay.

(2) Steve Walli posts two excellent entries on Microsoft’s strategy (or lack of strategy) regarding XML. Steve has a great deal of technical expertise, as well as being an ex-Microsoft employee, and can carry the analysis to places that I’m not capable of knowledgeably venturing. His first post rather chillingly examines How Microsoft Should Have Played the ODF Standards Game, while his second explores Microsoft’s mindset in developing its strategy.




Tuesday: (1)Ecma’s Terms of Reference for the XML Reference Schema Working Group reach me and Pamela Jones, at Groklaw. If you don’t regularly visit Groklaw, you should. Once Pamela commits to cover a story, the coverage is formidable. As I look at her home page today, I see no fewer than four pieces that Pamela wrote, as well as two third party articles with summaries and links.


(2) ABC News posts an Office 12 Beta review from PCWorld that describes how the new formats can be used (or not used, at a user’s preference) in practice.


(3) Tom Adelstein posts a short interview with Larry Rosen, in which Larry further explains his conclusion that the Microsoft covenant not to sue will permit open source licensing.


(4) An earlier brief post (November 26) by Larry Lessig pops up at Always On in which Larry also speaks with approval about the Microsoft covenant. Larry’s post reads as follows:

There’s been lots of interesting commentary about Microsoft’s recent decision to submit its Office Document Formats to ECMA for “open standardization.” That’s good news, depending, of course, on the details.


But this is even better news: Microsoft has also promised that “it will not seek to enforce any of its patent claims necessary to conform to the technical specifications for the Microsoft Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas.”


This shows some hope to the complex of issues around patents affecting software in the land of Microsoft. Even opponents of software and business method patents will advise companies to secure them — given others can as well. But behavior like this goes a long way to neutralizing the negative effect of such patents. No license. No agreement. Just an unequivocal promise — at least with respect to those who don’t sue Microsoft.

A quick read of this may suggest a more favorable review than a more careful review will indicate: he acknowledges that the devil of the Ecma tender will be in the details, takes the future promise at face value, and then finally comments not on the specifics of the covenant, but on the mechanism of covenants not to sue generically, in contrast to complex licenses.


Wednesday: The Computer & Communications Industry Association (or CCIA) sends a letter of protest to Herald Theist, President of Emma International. That letter reads in part as follows:



Tomorrow you will hold a preliminary vote on the proposed establishment of an Emma International standard around Microsoft’s Office XML formats. On behalf of the Computer & Communications Industry Association and the Open Source and Industry Alliance, I respectfully request that you reject this proposal….




No one begrudges any company the opportunity to make new versions of its products compatible with previous ones. The larger problem is the frustration that arises when businesses, consumers and governments must deal with “standards” that are simple ratifications of what almost any proprietary software company would do in the normal course of business….


Unfortunately, the proposal before you does not meet basic principles of openness. It provides no assurances as to third-party access to or implementation of the standard. The proposal does not call for open management and control. In fact, it indicates that no one can introduce or remove features from Office 12 save Microsoft itself. There is no assurance that the Microsoft will actually support the standard should it disagree with actions taken by Emma….


Because open standards are by definition controlled by no single party, they facilitate interoperation among suppliers, partners, peers, and customers. Standards such as HTML, XML and TCP/IP maximize choice, minimize production costs and make competition work for customers of all kinds. In the long run, market forces work better, and vital records can be preserved forever — not just for two or three product cycles. This proposed standard assures none of these things.


Mr. Theis, the world is at a crossroads. Much, if not most technological progress today takes place in a milieu of open standards. Rather than approve this proposal as is, we urge you to insist on true openness. You should demand more of any vendor that brings a standard to your committee. If Microsoft’s proposal is to have any meaning at all, competitive vendors and open source developers must have a strong role in its development. Microsoft, likewise, should promise to develop within the confines of the standard it puts forward, and should license any intellectual property within Office 12 so that all developers can be assured that their software licenses will not conflict with Microsoft’s. Once again we urge you to reject the proposal.

The letter is signed by Ed Black, President & CEO of CCIA, and the full text of the letter can be read here .


Clearly, things are not settling down. Nor have the supporters of ODF opted to sit back quietly and be spectators rather than active participants in influencing where all will eventually come out.


Thursday should prove to be an even more interesting day, as Ecma makes a decision that will not only affect the future of open document formats, but may say much about the future of Ecma as a venue for effective and respected standard setting as well.


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