Did Steve Ballmer Just Die?

I’m not sure what to make of this really…

Microsoft, through ECMA (the body currently dealing with DIS29500) announced today that it is going to:

… in response to requests for even easier access to the Binary Formats, Microsoft has agreed to remove any intermediate steps necessary to get the documentation, and will post it and make it directly available for a direct download on the Microsoft web site. Microsoft will also make the Binary Formats subject to its Open Specification Promise (see www.microsoft.com/interop/osp) by February 15, 2008.

In plain English, they are basically stating that they are going to make publicly available the specifications for their legacy [Update. that was my assumption. Discussion already suggests that they are in fact ONLY releasing access to Office 2007 binary formats] Office binary file formats. There are a few questions I’d be interested in getting answers to about this statement.

  • Which versions of their Office Binary Formats will be published?
  • What does their OSP (Open Specification Promise) really mean? Especially in relation to the GPL.
  • Why and why now…?

The published reason is that because there are so many statements in the DIS29500 spec that refer to instructions like “doLineBreaksLikeWord95” that they really didn’t have much of an option. Either include all the old specs as part of DIS29500 or make them available elsewhere.

If Microsoft are really genuine about this, and the OSP stacks up and enables developers to use the information with GPL licenced software then, quite frankly, I applaud their decision even though I am quite amazed by it.

Of course we have just had the announcement by the EU regarding two new investigations into Microsoft’s monopoly and abuse thereof; one of which is specifically to do with Office file formats. So could this also be an attempt to deflect the EU investigators? Only time will tell I guess.

The second significant announcement they have made relates to the setting up of an Open Source project:

Microsoft have agreed to:

Initiate a Binary Format-to-ISO/IEC JTC 1 DIS 29500 Translator Project on the open source software development web site SourceForge (http://sourceforge.net/ ) in collaboration with independent software vendors. The Translator Project will create software tools, plus guidance, showing how a document written using the Binary Formats can be translated to DIS 29500. The Translator will be available under the open source Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) license, and anyone can use the mapping, submit bugs and feedback, or contribute to the Project. The Translator Project will start on February 15, 2008.

That is quite an amazing statement from Microsoft. The BSD license is an interesting choice. It is very business friendly. But what this really says to me is:

  1. that Microsoft have had enough of trying to do this [manage multiple file formats, ad nausea] on their own.
  2. their own converter isn’t that good!
  3. there are too many requests for a platform independent or agnostic converter (Mac, Linux, OpenBSD and mobile platforms etc etc etc). Obviously Microsoft couldn’t really write a converter for Linux now could they?

There are some good comments below Brian’s post, with some confusion about OSP and GPL compatibility, but on the whole most people’s reaction seems positive.

I find myself in the strange position of having to agree. They should probably be encouraged and praised for these decisions; although I can’t help but think there is a sting-in-the-tail somewhere…

But how on earth have they managed to actually do this is what gets me – has Steve Ballmer just died or something?

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