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Microsoft and Friends Want to Add More Bugs to OOXML

Posted in ISO, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, Patents, Standard at 6:00 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Rubbish dump - OOXML

Summary: Microsoft’s leap year bug-as-a-standard is back; more thoughts on the Word ban, which is challenged by Microsoft

AS we noted last week, OOXML has already 800+ pages of documented bugs. Microsoft and the Microsoft-dominated working group/s seemingly want to have some more bugs. Norbert Bollow, the man behind OpenISO, has the details.

2009-08-12: The ISO/IEC Working Group on OOXML Wants to Unfix the Leap-Year Bug and Related Date-and-Time Problems.


What can be done?
Obviously, if you’re involved in your national mirror committee for ISO/IEC JTC1, you can seek to convince it or the relevant subcommittee that 29500-4 / DCOR 1 should be disapproved. The international deadline for this ballot is 2009-11-04; the national member bodies of ISO will generally have deadlines in October by when the concerned committees mus make their decisions. While you’re at it, you’ll also be able to argue for disapproval of 29500-4 / FPDAM 1 (for related but different reasons, I’ll explain about that in one of my next blog postings.)

If you’re working for a software company and it is not yet active in the appropriate national standardization organization, you should probably become active to make sure that the emerging body of international standards in the field of IT isn’t going to get in the way of your company’s business interests. This recommendation for getting involved applies even if your company is a small one, or if software development isn’t the firm’s main line of business.

Dana Blankenhorn wrote about Microsoft’s OOXML abuse just a couple of days ago, reminding readers that Microsoft is more ferocious than ever.

While putting it in the way of the weasel, Microsoft is still pushing what amounts to a tax on users of Internet standards. It’s doing this through a definition of “open standards” that would mandate standards bodies to consider patented, protected, proprietary technology on a par with truly open source offerings, and encourage companies to pack standards bodies with paid employees.


If we learned anything at all from the OOXML debate it should be that any Microsoft victory there was pyrrhic. ODF was able to deliver on its standard long before Microsoft could change its own proprietary scheme to match what the ISO approved.

If their idea was to bury ODF in the corporate user base, Microsoft failed, and at enormous cost, both to its own reputation and that of the ISO standards bodies.

At the same time, Microsoft is accumulating patents on XML. See for example:

Carrying on from yesterday's post covering the subject of a lawsuit, here are some more reports about Microsoft Word being banned in the US. As SJVN put it:

It sounds like a joke. But, it’s real and it’s anything but a joke for Microsoft. Judge Leonard Davis, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, has issued an injunction (PDF Link) that “prohibits Microsoft from selling or importing to the United States any Microsoft Word products that have the capability of opening .XML, .DOCX or DOCM files (XML files) containing custom XML.”

Here is the official press release. TechDirt correctly points out that it won’t stick and Microsoft has already appealed against the ruling. [hat tip: ZiggyFish]

MICROSOFT plans to appeal a ruling by a Texas judge that would ban the software giant from selling its popular Word program in the US.

Groklaw has the documents from the ruling and one reader has given us the following i4i vs. Microsoft opinion:

<http://www.groklaw.net/pdf/i4ivMS-412.pdf>. Some interesting and arrogant quotes from Microsoft emails about the XML editor market. Read from the last two lines of page 39 through the first line of page 41. Best quote is the one in parentheses that ends on page 41.

Can’t believe those guys actually thought they had a prayer of monopolizing the market for low to medium power XML editors, particularly with Word native file support XML read/write filters.

My prediction: Microsoft either wins a stay pending appeal in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit or it settles promptly thereafter. Don’t think Microsoft can just remove the code for custom XML schemas embedded in the Microsoft flavor of OOXML overnight. OOXML also serves as the communications protocol between Office and Sharepoint Server, and from there via a conversion to XAML to a bunch of other Microsoft server side Office apps. To boot, Microsoft did the Office 2007 Compatibility Pack, a backport of the Office 2007 native file support APIs modularized with the old API’s replicated in the wrapper. That’s now running in Office 2000, Office XP, Office 2003, and Office 2008 for the Mac. Interesting blog article here by a Softie describing what they did. Rick Shaut, Open XML Converters for Mac Office, Buggin’ My Life Away (7 December 2006), <http://blogs.msdn.com/rick_schaut/archive/2006/12/07/open-xml-converters-for-mac-office.aspx>.

So they’ve got this huge mass of apps that are interdependent and really can’t tweak just one of them. To boot, they’ve got institutional customers already dependent on custom XML schemas, not to mention a few developers who’ve created apps with custom XML
dependencies. See e.g., this article by Doug Mahugh describing the custom XML dependency of Mindjet’s round trip interop with MS Word. <http://blogs.msdn.com/dmahugh/archive/2006/09/16/758090.aspx>.

Did I mention that Microsoft halting the sale of Word 2007 and 2003 in the U.S. is about as likely as the crack of dawn getting raped and thereby impregnated? Microsoft either wins that stay pending appeal or it settles.

When software patents cause so much trouble, it is made a lot easier to explain why they should be deprecated.

MR. OLSON [For Microsoft]: The ’580 patent is a program, as I understand it, that’s married to a computer, has to be married to a computer in order to be patented.

JUSTICE SCALIA: You can’t patent, you know, on-off, on-off code in the abstract, can you?

MR. OLSON [For Microsoft]: That’s correct, Justice Scalia.

JUSTICE SCALIA: There needs to be a device.

MR. OLSON [For Microsoft]: An idea or a principle, two plus two equals four can’t be patented. It has to be put together with a machine and made into a usable device.

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  1. Jose_X said,

    August 13, 2009 at 1:01 pm


    An injunction could cost Microsoft possibly over ten billion USD (spread out as disappearance of profits plus tacked on losses for several quarters to come). I’m guessing at this number but it would involve real retooling at many levels I am sure (including with partners (eg, books).. which might result in lawsuits or loss of partners, perhaps). Additionally, until they sort of fixed the problem (and their products would initially be more buggy), they would have to deal with lost sales and may even have to deal with returns or more lawsuits and loss of customers (especially if the patent holder went after major customers.. eg, to get money from them).

    An angry Microsoft would make more mistakes, including getting more aggressive about patents today.

    They likely will have to continue to have to deal with injunctions for their products from today forward until software patents are neutered at least significantly.

    Patents don’t belong in realms where you already have a lot of inventors and barriers to inventions and manufacture are low (as is the case, clearly, at least for software use for use on general purpose devices).

    Since trying to help Microsoft on the patents realm by arguing on their behalf at their trials was not beneficial to FOSS, perhaps the approach is to have individuals sue Microsoft from here to eternity until Microsoft actually starts using their dollars to fight against patents on software for general purpose computing.

    Patent trolls can actually do society good by helping to rid it of monopolists and help FOSS grow. Go for **injunction** against the monopolist vendors and royalties against existing users.


    Jose_X Reply:

    >> Go for **injunction** against the monopolist vendors and royalties against existing users.

    Users would not be affected too much except that they would have to continue to pull value out of their existing investments and would realize quickly the high value of open source. [You can use open source Linux for free and pay for support if you so wish. You know open source Linux is publicly audited by many independent third parties.]

    By asking for small royalties from existing users (especially from the major corporations), those that already paid top dollar for Microsoft products would at most have to dish out a small percentage more (something they already do if they use anti-virus software and have ongoing service contracts). Because so many use MS products, the patent troll could still make significant money. Most importantly, the troll could feel they are doing a great service to society (at the cost of making fewer millions). They can live more peacefully that they didn’t exploit the horrendously unethical software patent system to stifle society but instead used it to fight down a monopolist that no one has been able to knock from their perch. Think of the greater good current Microsoft developers could do for society if they would work for other companies that were less hostile than is Microsoft and would be a greater part of open source?

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    The FFII was going to do something similar — create a patent troll to take Office off that market and teach Microsoft a lesson. That was only a thought last year.

    Jose_X Reply:

    [Note, see *** below]

    Microsoft has not yet pledged not to use any patents against FOSS, in particular, they are far from coming close to that position.

    They have been, are, and plan on continuing to be a threat to FOSS: they are fighting to defend software patents and are working in many other ways against end users’ peace of mind, freedom of choice, access, privacy, and security.

    They mock FOSS developers that do the hard work for relatively little $$, when these, if these followed the example of Microsoft, would be out there getting patents and using those patents to help FOSS grow, ie, using the patents to fight monopolists.

    The patent system is so broken (at least in the US) that anyone can get a very general patent (broad enforcement power). It would be almost trivial in difficulty to actually produce the sample invention “details” to shove inside the patent application. The key would be to develop the patent claims as general as possible and aimed at putting barriers in front of monopolists (so we would study their technology a bit). [Ie, it's the patent claims that are key and directing these at monopolists].

    The FFII can start a fund to pay for patents. Many can help write up tutorials on how to patent.

    There are many holes to cover if you want to try and protect your invention. Rather, it’s more cost, time, and effort effective to work on putting barriers in front of others.

    In “FOSS” fashion, we can help put an end to software patents and its exploitation by unethical individuals — not by helping improve IBM, Microsoft, troll X, etc, patents, NO — not by coming up with toothless prior art, NO — but by getting our own strategic patents and using them to teach a lesson to any major vendor out there that was working to support software patents, in particular, as a way to gain an upper hand against small competitors and against FOSS.

    Wow! pay Microsoft tons of money for “protection” than have trolls come and get injunctions against your software-based products!

    Creating software patents is very accessible (especially when you don’t even need a PC because of how broken the system is).

    I would hate to spend time writing up patents, but I have resorted to thinking much more about planning that out, in part, because it makes me sick the idea that I could work on software for a long time and do something interesting and useful to others yet have some exploiter of unethical, broken, unconstitutional (software) patent system come and affect me and the users negatively in any way — heck the mere existence of software patents is a constant threat and disincentive (especially if you wanted to go in certain directions).

    Plus, as RMS did with copyright, we might possibly be very capable of exploiting the patent system ourselves to promote FOSS. The only problem is that we’d have to get dirty day in and day out. [Instead of writing the GPL license one time, we have to keep writing patents periodically, although, it only takes a few key patents to gain much, and overall patents are much easier to write than is a multi-use license.]

    The issue of first to file vs first to invent is an important one. If first to file, then doing peer review of patent applications and sketchy outlines in public is subject to anyone running to the patent office (or sleeping outside there waiting) faster than you after copying the public ideas. Currently in the US, you have a first to invent and you get one year to hammer out the patent application.

    I’m sure we would learn over time how to optimize the exploitation of the broken software patent system being defended by these unethical groups.

    We still argue against software patents vigorously. So long as they stay; however, we want to have first to invent/publish laws and try to get the fees lowered so that this doesn’t continue to be a tool exploitable largely only by the already wealthy. In particular, we should try to get ruled unconstitutional (in the US) any system that imposes anything but filing fees. Patents should be like copyrights. Just publish. As the system works today, the wealthy get those benefits of “just publish” but no one else does. If more people participated, the economy would come to its knees as it would be clear that a patent (on ideas) system cannot work when accessible to many.

    Rather than copyrighting only specific works, the patent system allows you to get monopolies, not just on works (ideas) that describe other works, but on these other works being described. In other words, you don’t have to write every interesting story, you just have to describe, in very general terms, every interesting story.

    Where we come in to stop others is that we can latch on to their broad patent claims by adding more specificity. The key is to anticipate this extra specificity before it shows up in public products, and we want to still remain general in description so that writing around our patents is still difficult.

    The patent system does not promote the progress of science and useful arts.

    Such is what I have observed (as a layman).

    Jose_X Reply:

    The market for MS servicing would not go away right away or for a while.

    In fact, just seeing more injunctive actions against the Monopolist software manufacturer will awaken people up to the problems of single source suppliers.

    As Linux gets better, the likelihood of seeing patent trolls go for injunctions against monopolists grows since the short-term negative impact will continue to go down while the long term benefits will be as real as ever.

    Will third parties be in position to thrive off free/open source software?

    Of course, don’t buy MSFT if you don’t want to be stuck holding the hot potato on the day of reckoning.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Other companies that sued Microsoft have already elevated the cost of Office and other products — a cost which passes to consumers.

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