Hilarious definition of open standard

by Rick Jelliffe

The Microsoft Office formats are open in the sense that every Microsoft Office competitor from StarOffice to OpenOffice.org to Word Perfect to ThinkFree Office has reverse engineered the Microsoft Office format and uses it freely yet they've never been sued by Microsoft for doing so. says ZDNet's George Ou.

Open in the sense that a locked though crackable safe is open.


Tomas Sancio
2006-04-24 04:36:43
Although you're right that the MS Office formats are as open as a door with a regular-sized padlock, I found out that Microsoft's XML formats are very well documented. If they're faster and well-documented, why reinvent the wheel? Additionally, there's always XSLT for converting back and forth in case there's something you don't like.
Rick Jelliffe
2006-04-24 05:09:31
Yes, it is great MS has embraced XML for their recent Office products. (Though perhaps if they didn't keep changing the XML formats it might be a bit friendlier and less whiffy of premature fake-standardization. :-)

I don't get "why reinvent the wheel?" bit though: surely whatever applies to ODF applies just as equally to MS? Neither were remotely first in this area: the venerable Rainbow DTDs from the early 1990s spring to mind for example.

(That Ou blogs seems systematically badly thought out on a number of other points, by the way. It is a well-known characteristic of programs with lazy garbage collection (such as Java, used by Open Office) that the footprint reported by the OS does not correspond to the memory in use. They expand until a threshold is reached, then garbage collect down. The number reported is the memory allocated, not the memory in use. I had to look into this to figure out the reported versus actual RAM performance of my company's Java utilities.)

2006-04-24 05:12:47
The problem isn't that it's technically difficult (which it isn't), it's that it's legally iffy. Microsoft "standards" are often licensed specifically to keep open source software from using it. This is why they are reinventing the wheel: they want something that everyone in the world, without exception can use; something Microsoft refuses to support.
2006-04-24 14:10:18
And that means it is as 'iffy' as most software development projects for anything ground breaking and based on open standards is. If you haven't noticed, the VCs are finding small companies that implement products for nascent standards, the small companies get patents on trivial implementations, then they wait to sue while they work on a release version. The standards are guns to the heads of the vendors requiring them to walk a freshly laid mine field in too many cases. If you don't believe that, do a bit of research into patents related to the Semantic Web.

It is down to picking the risks vs the bail money. If you plan to steal, steal enough to buy your way out of court.

That isn't meant as a defense of Microsoft. It's meant to point out that this is the software industry post-1995/96.

Les Richardson
2006-05-04 11:39:40
The ou blog misses the point. The MS XML thingy has essentially no structure. Essentially just a low level page dump, just above pixel level that maps tightly to the code that manipulates it. OO format is more of a higher level structured approach (though certainly still not high level). Comparing apples to oranges. The key is that is can store structured information, as opposed to MS Pixel Dump, and we can target that storage format freely.