OpenDocument format (ODF) versus Microsoft’s opening of MS XML



There are a couple articles out today (last few days) on the growing conflict between the ODF (Open Document Format) Microsoft’s XML. For starters, the ODF came about as a response/alternative to closed formats such as Microsoft’s. The concept is that it is in the public interest for information to be stored in formats that are open and accessible to anyone. Last week Microsoft fired a volley with a modification to the license for their MS Open XML. They hope the file format will become an international standard. The format is to be used for the next version of Microsoft Office.


In the modification….

Additionally the company is moving the schema away from its royalty-free licensing to a simpler “covenant not to sue” to garner more support from the community, Brian Jones, Office program manager, noted in his blog.

The covenant not to sue means a lot to open source programmers who might be inclined to add support for the new format.

Among the news today, Larry Rosen, an open-source lawyer has endorsed the terms set out by Microsoft for the file format. It’s encouraging to see Microsoft open this up in a way that should benefit everyone, programmers, users, etc. My only concern is that a future Microsoft leader could decide they need to leverage their IP on the open-document format and renig on the “covenant not to sue”. I’m not a lawyer, so I haven’t delved into the details, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a company has changed course on their IP.

Among others, Massachusetts is pleased with the development. Massachusetts has been pushing for the exclusive use of software that saves in Open document formats. (All documents created after January 1, 2007 must utilize “open” file formats.) Currently PDF and OpenDocument are on the list (Opendocument is the main format for OpenOffice.org 2.0 and currently not supported by a Microsoft product). PDF is supported by freely downloadable Acrobat reader among other pdf viewers. It sounds as though the more open MS XML format, may also make their list. Politcal tussle to ensue…

Even if we do wind up with several competing “open” document formats, that’s still a good thing for consumers as long as the software can reasonably handle any of them. (As long as they ARE TRULY free of IP constraints and are TRULY open for any and all to implement and use.)

Meanwhile, OSDIR has a comparison of the ODF and MS XML formats. (Which is actually at groklaw.

A reader post at News.com sums up my skepticism of MS’s motives and future path on this.

–update 9:35PM–
It looks like the lobbying has already begun from the “anti-Microsoft” side. The previous link details a letter dated today urging Massachusetts to not take promises of a future submission to a standards body dissuade them. Further, it points out that the Open Document Format is here now, the MS XML is a format that will be available in a future release of Microsoft Office.

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