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Bill Gates, 1999: Giving out the Office 2000 Formats to Competitors Seems Crazy

Posted in Formats, IBM, Interoperability, Microsoft, Office Suites at 9:38 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Amid discussions about Microsoft’s ‘Open’ formats and hype that surrounds so-called interoperability, here’s something which is worth mentioning [PDF]. It is reverse chronological (the ‘Microsoft way’) and contains a good deal of typos, which we apologise for.

Just look how Bill Gates feels about permitting compatibility with IBM. This series of E-mails speaks for itself.

From: Bob Muglia (Exchange)
Sent: Saturday, August 07, 1999 1:20 PM
To: Bill gates
Subject: RE: JPP response to your source code question etc….

This is a tough one. The format were published on the MSDN website before I took over the group. So the decision about whether or not to publish was already made. This really can’t be undone because there are 100′s of 1000′s of CDs already manufactured which contain the specs.

I can’t say for sure why the decision was made to publish this; I suspect that people believed the PR cost exceded the valie of not publishing.

When I took over ATG last year, I was pretty suprised to find this out. At this point, I don’t know what to do as the genie is out of the bottle and given our current stance with the file formats (ie. they don’t change until at least something major happens), I don’t know what can be done about it.


From: Bill Gates
Sent: Thursday, August 05, 1999 4:36 PM
To: Bob Muglia (exchange)
Subject: FW: JPP response to your source code question etc….

Why would the Office group be giving out the Office 2000 formats to competitors? To me this seems crazy.

- Original Message -
From: Marc Kuperstein
Sent: Wednesday, August 04, 1999 2:35 PM
To: Bill Gates; Reed Koch; Will Poole
Cc: Marshall Goldberg; Anthony Bay (exchange)
Subject: FW: JPP response to your source code question etc….

Wanted to chime in ….

If you were not already aware we provided to Lotus documentation on our Office 2000 HTML/XML file formats. Lotus had requested this information several months back and we worked with the Office team to get this information (a) published and (b) into the hands of companies that wanted to interoperate (e.g., Lotus, Novell, Corel). This effort will do a lot to improve interoperability between the products. Also, it is my understanding that Lotus is planning on supporting import & export of thethese formats in their SmartSuite product.

On the WMT/WMP front – we are in fact making progress but there are still a couple of issues to be worked out. In general -

* I believe we are very close to having Lotus commit to shipping WMP 4.0 with Notes.

* The Lotus/IBM team is working closely with our WMT folks on figuring out ow to best create an Integrated experience. Lotus has told us that they see great value for their customers in having an integrated solution between WNT & Donino/Notes on both the server and client. To the credit of ABay’s team, we have been aggressivly evaluating ways to make this happen in the WNT 4.0 timeframe … but I believe everyone agrees that the desired integration would be very near impossible to achieve today and some aspects would be very expensive and the technology risky. None the less, a lot of progress has been made as a result of these oforts and we are getting closer to a stronger commitment to continue down this path – perhaps including some type of

- Original Message -
From: Marshall Goldberg
Sent: Wednesday, August 04, 1999 1:42 PM
To: Marc Kuperstein
Subject: FW: JPP response to your source code question etc….

You need to see this.

- Original Message -
From: Bill Gates
Sent: Friday, July 02, 1999 11:57 AM
To: Reed Kock
Cc: Marshall Goldberg; Will Poole
Subject: FW: JPP response to your source code question etc

I pass this along…

- Original Message -
From: Jeffrey_Papows@lotus.com [mailto:Jeffrey_Papows@Lotus.com
Sent: Friday, July 02, 1999 6:19 AM
To: Bill Gates
Cc: Will Poole
Subject: FW: JPP response to your source code question etc


We strongly believes it is in our customers’ best interest to provide compatibility between our desktop applications, particularly file compatibility for word processing (Took us a decade to get there bu hay we’ve all gotten older if not smarter) – We will provide Microsoft a special .DLL file for accessing Lotus Word Pro files as well as
documentation for its use and sample programs under a mutual non-disclosure agreement. Your teams can request this by sending e-mail to Word_pro_API”lotus.com and we will send a, actually I’ll get our folks on it proactivly. We can also supply source code for this DLL file and any assistance required by Microsofot in its efforts to build tighter compatability between MS Word and Lotus Word Pro. Feel free to have the appropriate people in your development organization to contact Joe Guthridge (Joe_Guthridge”lotus.com) who heads up the Word Pro team for any further information or clarification or help they need to make things happen… We look forward to working with your crew, and I know our customers will appreciate it. On another note we’re fast proceeding on the media player front, we are waiting for a small come
back from Will’s guys now but have also begun to draft a common release, we should have that work done shortly. Keep me posted. By the way looks like the Y2K legislation go somewhere.

Jeff Papows
President and Chief Executive Officer
Lotus Development Corporation
Voice 617-693-8254
E-Mail: Jeffrey_Papows@lotus.com [mailto:Jeffrey_Papows@Lotus.com]


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Pages that cross-reference this one


  1. Stephane Rodriguez said,

    April 13, 2007 at 2:01 pm


    In fact, the BillG memo is more innocent than you might think.

    On the one hand, you can still purchase old CDs from MSDN Library, thus grab the specs. On the other hand, what the memo does not say is that what was published in MSDN Library was only a fraction of the actual file format specs.

    This memo (http://antitrust.slated.org/www.iowaconsumercase.org/011607/2000/PX02991.pdf) also from BillG is much more devastating in its consequences. To put it in context, you have to remember that back in 1999/2000 days, Microsoft Office was putting all bets on the web documents of the future, MS Office documents that would render in Internet Explorer which meant that in order for anyone to render an MS Office document, you would still be required to use Windows and Internet Explorer. The VML library, built in Internet Explorer, is actually the code porting of the internal MSO layer that is shared across all MS Office applications/documents. That was the trick to ensure that no non-Microsoft party would be able to render this stuff properly : VML, among other libraries, has never been adequately documented (and the VML markup documentation farce added in OOXML is just a sad attempt to betray specs reviewers that don’t pay enough time doing actual review).

    That is still true today since OOXML is just a fraction of what is need to instantiate Office 2007 documents.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    April 13, 2007 at 5:10 pm


    Thanks, Stephane. Here’s a better memo, to address your point.

    From: Bill Gates
    Sent: Saturday, December 05, 1998 9:44 AM
    To: Bob Muglia (Exchange); Jon DeVaan; Steven Sinofsky
    Cc: Paul Mariz
    Subject: Office rendering

    One thing we have got to change is our strategy — allowing Office documents to be rendered very well by OTHER PEOPLES BROWSERS is one of the most destructive things we could do to the company.

    We have to stop putting any effort into this and make sure that Office documents very well depends on PROPRIETARY IE capabilities.

    Anything else is suicide for our platform. This is a case where Office has to to destroy Windows.

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