I was pretty impressed when, just before Thanksgiving, I came across a Financial Times article reporting that Microsoft was pledging to open up the specifications for its Office file formats, although those specs wouldn't be available for 18 months or so.
That story wasn't quite right, but, in the Financial Times reporter's defense, neither was the press release that Microsoft issued that day.
Right up top, the release read: "Microsoft Corp. today announced it will take steps to offer the file format technology behind billions of documents to customers and the industry as an international standard." The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say, is that the formats that Microsoft is opening are its new, XML-based Office 12-to-be formats, the ones that don't yet exist in a shipping product, let alone in billions of documents.
A bit of time has passed now since Microsoft made the announcement, and in the meantime, my belly's grown plump with turkey and gravy, and my temples are bulging with all the commentary and gushing and snideness I've read regarding this topic.
To sum up, Microsoft has pledged not to sue developers who use the firm's new OpenXML technology, modifying the terms under which it is offering OpenXML enough (apparently) to render the format amenable to GPL'd development.
Also, OpenXML is slated for submission to and subsequent standardization by Ecma International. Also, Microsoft has said that it will "make available tools to enable old documents to capitalize on the open standard format."
Now come the questions. First, and most importantly, can we trust Microsoft to actually open OpenXML? Well, Larry Rosen, one-time general counsel and secretary of the Open Source Initiative, has reportedly said that so far, Microsoft's pledges look solid.
Rosen's a shrewd guy who, yes, wrote the book on open source, or at least wrote a book on open source, and if his opinion at this point is positive toward Microsoft's move, then that gives me some confidence.
Also, the Ecma standardization tack brings to mind Microsoft's standardization moves with regard to C#, which has been fruitfully embraced by the folks from Mono, the open-source .Net implementation that now drives many cool open-source applications, including the little Tomboy Notes application to which I'm very attached and into which I'm now typing this column.
While Microsoft hasn't embraced Mono-and, recently, rather lamely barred a Mono Birds of a Feather event from inclusion in Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference-Microsoft hasn't shut it down, either. Again, so far, so good.
The main reason why I'm inclined to believe that Microsoft will allow OpenXML actually to be open is that the move clearly benefits Microsoft.