As prom­ised, Microsoft have released doc­u­ment­a­tion on their old bin­ary formats by Feb­ru­ary 15. I haven’t taken a look yet, but the com­ments on the art­icle don’t look too encour­aging: some people con­tend that ele­ments are miss­ing and incom­plete. It’ll be inter­est­ing to see how Microsoft respond to this feed­back. Hope­fully the kinks will be smoothed out with little fuss. As far as I am con­cerned, a com­plete spec needs to cov­er full format­ting, embed­ding, scripts, mac­ros, for­mu­lae, schem­as, images, bin­ary blobs, pass­word pro­tec­tion and DRM (and I’m sure I’ve missed some oth­er import­ant stuff too). It should also list exactly which pat­ents are covered, in a man­ner sim­il­ar to the Samba/​PFIF deal.

Addi­tion­ally, Microsoft have announced a bin­ary-to-OOXML trans­lat­or pro­ject. How well this will pan out is anyone’s guess. They say that the “pro­ject is developed and released under a very lib­er­al BSD-like license (sic)”. IANAL — is this licence GPL-com­pat­ible? Could it be used to cre­ate a GPL bin­ary-to-ODF con­vert­er (using OOXML as an inter­me­di­ary), that we can embed into applic­a­tions like Open​Of​fice​.org or Xena?

Obvi­ously these moves are focused on get­ting OOXML approved by ISO, but I’m also hope­ful (though not optim­ist­ic) that it is a sign that Microsoft are will­ing to play more fair with the pub­lic and industry. We need to take advant­age of this pre­dic­a­ment they’ve put them­selves in, and pres­sure them into open­ing their formats as much as pos­sible. If OOXML is ever going to be approved, it should be so open that it’s no longer an issue. I don’t ser­i­ously expect this to hap­pen, so I still hope it fails 😉 .

But stand­ard or not, we’re still going to have to deal with it. Office 2007 has its own vari­ant, lov­ingly dubbed MS-OOXML by some. The more they open up the format, the more inde­pend­ent and com­plete imple­ment­a­tions there will be, hence there will be more iner­tia for MS to go with the flow and not devi­ate any fur­ther. Then at least it’ll be a de facto open stand­ard. Maybe I’m dream­ing, but it’s at least an inter­est­ing theory 🙂

In semi-related news, Microsoft engin­eer Alistair Speirs has blogged about his vis­it to SLUG. Some prize quotes:

The Linux com­munity has matured from my uni­ver­sity days. … It seems like the linux com­munity has a much more sens­ible, prag­mat­ic approach now

Geeks are geeks, no mat­ter what OS they use. I think this often gets lost in the reli­gious divides and flame­wars. All that geek-anger would be much more use­ful tar­get­ing law­yers and invest­ment bankers.

The crowd was pretty friendly and they took us out to a Chinese res­taur­ant after­wards. In an inter­est­ing act of irony, the FLOSS com­munity paid for our din­ner.

For those won­der­ing about the video, we just have to wait on a few things before we can release it. I’m sure we’ll get this sor­ted soon, so no con­spir­acy the­or­ies please 🙂 .

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