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Microsoft opens Office file formats?

"Microsoft offers an open and royalty-free documentation and license of the Microsoft Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas. These include SpreadsheetML (the schema for Microsoft Office Excel 2003), FormTemplate Schemas (the schema for Microsoft Office InfoPath™ 2003), and WordprocessingML (the schema for Microsoft Office Word 2003). The schemas provide business, governments, and developers a standard way to store and exchange information."

http://www.microsoft.com/office/xml/default.mspx

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, November 17, 2003


Looks pretty good to me - I can't find anything that would allow them to reverse this decision in the future, especially since they're making such a big deal about government adoption. Upgrades aren't exactly flying off the shelves, so I don't think there's much to discuss in terms of "Will this hurt sales?" - the market is already saturated.

<rant>
What is the deal with the way Microsoft packages the majority of its non-executable content as executables? To get the schemas you need to download and run an executable which can only run on the latest version of Windows. I find this absolutely hilarious - the whole site is talking about these open/portable XML definitions, but the schemas are only available for NT-based users. How are text files platform-dependent? The mind boggles.

Also, what the hell is the patent license for? You can't patent a data format. It's not an apparatus or a process. I seriously doubt they have a patent on processing the data (XML)... I'm sure the USPTO would grant them one, but would the company's lawyers think it worth the time to file a patent that was obviously useless?

What is the patent?
</rant>

Oh Microsoft... I love you and hate you at the same time.

Dan J
Monday, November 17, 2003

Well it's not that we don't trust them or anything...well I suppose it is that exactly.  MS for a combination of reasons, mostly but not always their own fault, have annoyed a lot of people.  And even a perfectly reasonable, open handed and charitable gesture is going to be treated with the deepesst suspician

I couldn't reach the link BTW  - why I don't know - so I can't fully comment. 

A cynic writes
Monday, November 17, 2003

Microsoft Word XML format:

<Document>
LSIDF JHSDLFJ0W8430WEROJ3O4UOWEJRLJWELRJWLEJRLWEJ LWJERLJWERL JLSJDF LSJFDL JWLEJR02385045L WJRL2304WEJR L0345 OWEJR 3050WGJOWRT02450OXCVBZKXCHIDASHFQ3750DFOSJDR0U2340JSERLF03U4014ROSEJR028350RJGOSDJF02U340EJTLAR013U40DJRLJ20348OEJFLSDJT02384WEJRLJO1U3045704TOIJFG028458734-0845-95824080WEJG0W0952OTJ02U5
</Document>

T. Norman
Monday, November 17, 2003

Here is my take:
- The format allows a document stored in XML format to be recontructed via element.  As for the billions stored in word ".doc" format, they are still locked away. 

-  Given that, sharing could be accomplished without XML today, just using RTF, but most people (99.999999999999999%) store in native format. 

-  Office 2003+ has no similar restrictions so the paranoid could look at this as a way to answer the problem of MS being open, killing RTF, and then relocking down the format with a later release.  The worse part is, even as a MS supporter, it would be something in they would do.

MSHack
Monday, November 17, 2003

"MS being open, killing RTF, and then relocking down the format with a later release"

As a former MS doomsayer, I have to ask - can *anyone* cite an example of one of these "it's a trick!" predictions coming true? Some apparently benevolent action of MS later being rescinded to the detriment of everyone?

One of the huge ones early on was that IE was being dumped to kill Netscape, then when NS was dead MS would start charging for it, or commit some other grevious browser crime. Other than technical issues, I don't see anything about IE that would serve as evidence that MS planned to kill NS to take advantage of a browser monopoly. In fact, I believe that since the days when IE was actively competing with NS, IE has come to respect MORE open standards.

So have any of the other "MS will abuse this later" predictions come to fruition?

I'm not being combative - I'm honestly curious; I can't think of any.

Philo

Philo.
Monday, November 17, 2003

Have you noticed that Microsoft has virtually abandoned IE development? They won the war and quickly decided that the benevolent browser market wasn't worthwhile. They also pulled out of the Mac market. I most certainly don't fault them in either case, but for those who were casting Microsoft as a benevolent force of good during the browser wars...well you can now see what the motivation really was.

I am neither pro and anti-Microsoft. Well, to clarify traditionally I was very pro-Microsoft, however lately I'm getting a "desperate" feel about them and some of their actions, and that is tempering my feelings for their products. The reason is that they have a revenue model that simply can't continue--I no longer feel any urge of critical reason to upgrade to the newest version of Office (their cash cow), and this is the case of many organizations. Couple this with the fact that quite a few organizations and countries are making the switch to Linux, and the fact that a large number of organizations have moved many of their administrative systems on the web (which further decouples them from any OS dependecy). To combat this Microsoft has started pursuing some absurdly expensive and unfair licensing agreements that have turned even more companies against them.

I wouldn't bet on Microsoft stock over the next 5 years, and if I were them I'd look at splitting the company as soon as possible.

Dennis Forbes
Monday, November 17, 2003

>>
What is the deal with the way Microsoft packages the majority of its non-executable content as executables?
<<

The EXE is just a stub that decompresses the archive as a convenience for Windows users.  WinZip is able to decompress the file without running the EXE so I would assume there are decompression applications available on other platforms that can do the same. 

SomeBody
Monday, November 17, 2003

It looks like only the Pro version can create XML documents (which appears to be a choice at save (or perhaps a preference)).  So they can offer XML formats without giving up their dominance, additionally they're also likely banking on a better user interface.

No doubt there will be plenty of companies that will buy the pro version to allow themsevles to save their data in XML that they can later access with other tools.  But that's not a loss to Microsoft, that's a win (more and larger sales now).  Think of this as a big boost for current sales.  I'm sure plenty of IT purchasing geeks will be touting the ability to save in XML like its the best thing since .... well.... RTF.

Lou
Monday, November 17, 2003

Dennis - nobody should be surprised that a product which gains a near ubiquity would move into a "coast" mode - competition begets innovation; innovation generally doesn't happen without it. And let's face it - Netscape was in a coast mode all on their lonesome. :)

But I'm talking about the *abuse* of monopoly position to the detriment of the market. I haven't seen that.

As far as MS is concerned, I would've agreed with you about a year ago. However, now I think their future is so bright they gotta wear shades:
- .Net is a runaway hit
- SQL Server is ensconced as a solid, cheaper, alternative to Oracle
- Yukon (next SQL Server) on the horizon
- Sharepoint is a damn good platform
- Biztalk is gaining ground
- Longhorn is looking fairly promising
- Windows 2k3/Windows XP is a stable business platform and should give businesses 8-10 years of solid life
- Finally, regarding Office 2003 - you really should look at it. It is VERY cool, and I think there may be a minor outbreak of Office 2k3 development over the next 2 years. I'd say Office 2k3 is as revolutionary a dev platform as Access 2.0 was at the time.

My $.02.

Philo

Philo.
Monday, November 17, 2003

FWIW, the Microsoft Word binary format is officially a closed format, but Microsoft will gvie you the specs for it if you ask really nicely.  There's a page somewhere on MSDN that explains the process... you basically have to fill out a short application that explains why you want access to it.

Robert Jacobson
Monday, November 17, 2003

Out of curiousity Philo, is your new job with Microsoft doing product advocacy? I'm not using that as a veiled insult but truly am curious. I do know that Microsoft has been swelling the ranks of advocates/evangelists.

In any case, there is no debate that Microsoft has a lot of great products, many with great futures (though I wouldn't paint it quite as brightly as you have...given that Microsoft has placed virtually all of their eggs in the .NET basket, I'd call it a marketing flop, even though personally I think it's a great product).

The question, though, isn't whether they're a successful software company, but whether they're a $280 billion dollar market cap software company. I don't think the massive software licensing fees and continued unwanted-technology churn is going to be accepted for much longer - we're already seeing a lot of "wins" by alternatives (such as Linux), yet there are seldom "wins" back. Without a doubt these wins are purely for economic reasons, regardless of the Microsoft solution being technically superior.

Dennis Forbes
Monday, November 17, 2003

"In fact, I believe that since the days when IE was actively competing with NS, IE has come to respect MORE open standards."

Such as?

Jim Rankin
Monday, November 17, 2003

"FWIW, the Microsoft Word binary format is officially a closed format, but Microsoft will gvie you the specs for it if you ask really nicely.  There's a page somewhere on MSDN that explains the process... you basically have to fill out a short application that explains why you want access to it."

And if your explanation is "I want to create a competing product and undercut Microsoft on price", what is the response?

Jim Rankin
Monday, November 17, 2003

"And let's face it - Netscape was in a coast mode all on their lonesome. :)"

Joel covered this pretty well, Netscape died because they decided to do a ground up rewrite and ignore the existing code base.

Now that Microsoft is saying they will rewrite all of their applications as .Net assemblies (or whatever they're called), how does the Netscape lesson apply to that idea?

Jim Rankin
Monday, November 17, 2003

"One of the huge ones early on was that IE was being dumped to kill Netscape, then when NS was dead MS would start charging for it, or commit some other grevious browser crime."

As one sidenote as I couldn't let this one slip (:-)) - Microsoft won the browser war, and then canned the independent browser development, now proclaiming that the only way to get the next version is to buy the next operating system. Sounds like they're doing exactly what the doomsdayers predicted.

Dennis Forbes
Monday, November 17, 2003

"Now that Microsoft is saying they will rewrite all of their applications as .Net assemblies (or whatever they're called), how does the Netscape lesson apply to that idea?"

Joel covered that one, too (I think it was regarding .Net in general) - he basically said "You cannot rewrite your entire application from scratch. Unless you're Microsoft"

Philo

Philo.
Monday, November 17, 2003

"Joel covered that one, too (I think it was regarding .Net in general) - he basically said "You cannot rewrite your entire application from scratch. Unless you're Microsoft""

I can't find this.  The article I'm thinking of is here.

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000069.html

I skimmed it and missed the "unless your Microsoft" exception.  If anything, Joel probably considers Microsoft the counter example.  They are infamous for sticking with anything they consider strategic, refining it and refining it, but never throwing it out and starting over.

Maybe it's a case of Microsoft hubris believing they are the exception to the "never rewrite from the ground up" rule.

Jim Rankin
Monday, November 17, 2003

> But I'm talking about the *abuse* of monopoly position to the detriment of the market. I haven't seen that.

They've steadily squeezed harder (charged more money, made the licensing more stringent, etc) on Windows and Office, which are de facto monopolies. How could you miss seeing that?

In areas with real competition (eg, the database market), they're forced to price accordingly.

I for one don't *specifically* blame Microsoft for this behavior; *any* for-profit corporation would do the same, if it could.

I also think that a big part of Microsoft's power is that so much of it is held by Gates and Co., and so they are not forced to make stupid short-term decisions, and can actually implement long-term ones (eg, the famous "focus on the Internet").

Portabella
Monday, November 17, 2003

Philo,

MS *ARE* charging for the next upgrade to IE.  Remember, we covered this a few months ago. No new releases except with new releases of the OS. Otherwise upgrades are going to be via MSN Explorer - which is a paid for version of IE (which probably doesn't let you change your homepage away from msn.com). Since Netscape petered out Microsoft haven't added any standards support to IE. They were once the leader in standards support, but that's no longer the case.

I don't know that I think Microsoft are evil, but I certainly feel the reality of this announcement is probably not quite as rosy as the press release (no surprise there, and certainly not a sin that Microsoft alone commits).

Walter Rumsby
Monday, November 17, 2003

This is a very smart move by Microsoft because it neatly kills one of the many dumb claims by open-source-for-government fanatics.

A lot of this crowd know nothing about software, and think open source is necessary for open formats, and thus data preservation, when it's not.

JM
Monday, November 17, 2003

"This is a very smart move by Microsoft because it neatly kills one of the many dumb claims by open-source-for-government fanatics."

Huh? It's a good move for them to use "open" file formats because this kills the "dumb claim" by the open-source-for-government fanatics? So basically Microsoft has ceded (albeit only partly) to those who call for open data standards, and this is a great thing, but it was a dumb claim when the open source fanatics pushed it. This sounds mighty similar to the anti-Java clucking from the droids I heard prior to .NET, but once .NET came around it was the greatest thing ever, and it "kills" those dumb Java advocates....by being just like Java.

"A lot of this crowd know nothing about software, and think open source is necessary for open formats, and thus data preservation, when it's not."

This is absolutely nonsensical. I am totally uncommitted about open-source, but I absolutely and fervently believe in open data formats to allow choice, innovation, and to allow the best products to win (rather than the most entrenched). This is the way many others are as well.

Dennis Forbes
Monday, November 17, 2003

The biggest benefit of open data formats is the outgrowth of new and interesting uses for the data that the originator could never have predicted.

Imagine if HTML had been patented and protected - we'd probably still be looking at blue and purple links on grey pages with a throbbing N in the corner.

And the blink tag!

Philo

Philo.
Monday, November 17, 2003

Dennis, apologies if I wasn't clear. Open-source-for-government people have argued that open source is necessary in order to have open formats, when it isn't. They are different things.

JM
Monday, November 17, 2003

Fair enough, and I entirely agree -- the important aspect is open (or standardized) formats, but I think the tend towards open-source has been largely due to the fact that few alternatives existed in the commercial sphere. This will indeed be a great win for Microsoft, though perhaps a cynic could say that this was thrust upon them by a customer base that had become extremely wary and doubtful of Microsoft's motives.

Dennis Forbes
Monday, November 17, 2003

"Embrace and extend" is a myth promulgated by communists and open source zealots against Microsoft.

hoser
Tuesday, November 18, 2003

XML for Word has great advantages over RTF. You can have different versions of a document - like an exam for teachers and another one for students. You  could do the same with judicious cutting and pasting but this is a time saver.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Not sure if you're just trying to be humorous, hoser, however the term "embrace, extend, extinguish" wasn't invented by communist open sourcers -- it was a specific term used as a strategic direction by Microsoft executives (including Bill Gates) in 1995 (this came up in the lawsuit with Intel).

Dennis Forbes
Tuesday, November 18, 2003

> Open-source-for-government people have argued that open source is necessary in order to have open formats, when it isn't. They are different things.

While I agree that they are different, closed source often breeds closed formats because people generally choose applications first, then worry about the formats afterwards. So I understand their arguments, even if they are not strictly true.

Portabella
Tuesday, November 18, 2003

i _was_ trying to be sarcastic.

i guess it didn't work...

hoser
Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Heh, sorry. I could read it going either, but I have seen people say what you said with all sincerity, so I went with that interpretation. All apologies.

Dennis Forbes
Tuesday, November 18, 2003

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