Analyst: MS Office Formats Not Open

Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox has blasted recent media reports that claim Microsoft has opened up its Office file formats.

The reports state that Microsoft has reached an agreement with the state of Massachusetts to ease the licensing restrictions on its closely held Office XML formats. The compromise comes in response to the state's new "Open Standards" policy, which, much to the chagrin of Microsoft, favors the purchasing of open source and open standards software.

But Wilcox was clear in a recent posting to Jupiter's Microsoft Monitor: "So there is no misunderstanding, Microsoft hasn't opened up its proprietary Office file formats for general usage. Buzz about so-called open formats is little more than PR FUD. That's my firm position on the subject."

Wilcox explained that Eric Kriss, Massachusetts Secretary of Administration and Finance, simply announced that the Commonwealth had modified its position on open formats. "Under the change, Microsoft Office file formats could be considered open by the Commonwealth, depending on the terms of usage."

Kriss further said that Microsoft has "made representations to us recently they are planning to modify that license, and we believe, if they do so in the way that we understand that they have spoken about (we will leave it obviously to them to describe exactly what they are going to do), it is our expectation that the next iteration of the Open Format standard will include some Microsoft proprietary formats."

Microsoft chief XML architect Jean Paoli clarified his company's position in a letter, stating, "We are acknowledging that end users who merely open and read government documents that are saved as Office XML files within software programs will not violate the license."

"That's a far cry from open standard or really open format, as it is more typically used," says Wilcox.

"There is huge -- as in truly outrageous -- PR advantage for Microsoft here. Remember that under the Commonwealth's new definition, some proprietary formats can be deemed 'open format.' It would be a huge PR coup for Microsoft to be able to tag its proprietary file formats as open."

However, Wilcox notes that Massachusetts has yet to make a decision on how the new policy will classify Microsoft's XML formats. "I think Microsoft is premature trumpeting the open-format messaging. And to be clear, by any definition typically applied to file formats, Office isn't open."

"For lots of reasons, Microsoft isn't going to open up its Office file formats anytime soon, if ever," said Wilcox. "Such a tact would be wholly inconsistent with the company's longstanding approach to intellectual property, and there are clearly identifiable Office sales benefits associated with the proprietary formats."

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