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 OpenOffice.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 🙂 .