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Public Request For Microsoft To Release Deprecated File Formats

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the don't-hold-your-breath dept.

Businesses 154

SgtChaireBourne writes "NLnet, a Dutch foundation for an open information society, has publicly called for Microsoft to release its deprecated formats into the public domain. The maker of Office has made large efforts during the last year to move against the OpenDocument Format (ISO/IEC 26300). These efforts have been producing a lot of commentary regarding the amount of data bound up in the Redmond-based company's proprietary specifications. It's a nasty situation to end up with files that cannot be read because the sole vendor with the documentation for the files has withdrawn permission. ODF is the way forward, or a step forward at the least, with new documents. But for the old documents in the legacy formats, they cannot be read without supporting software and that support requires full access to the specifications."

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Inaccurate summary (5, Informative)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049718)

This call is not just to release OLDER file formats. That's the pretense, but if you read it carefully, you'll see sentences like this in the press release:

releasing the full blueprints of the many different versions of Microsoft's old Office formats (better known as doc, xls and ppt)

Last time I checked "many different versions" of doc, xls, and ppt are NOT old, obsolete file formats. They're essentially asking MS to not only open up their old file formats (such as Word 97 and older doc files), they're also asking them to hand over the full specifications on all their EXISTING modern formats--a move that would allow comptetitors to develop Office clones at will.

This is a thinly disquised shot at MS and closed source formats, not some noble attempt to help out archives. If it wasn't, they would have limited this to older files only and also called on other companies that make other older, proprietary formats (like Corel, Adobe, etc.) to release all their specs too.

Re:Inaccurate summary (4, Interesting)

tonsofpcs (687961) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049758)

I think a big part of the issue is that MS has routinely removed full support for their own older file formats from newer apps. I have some Word 2.0 .doc files that the newest program that I can use to read them with all of the advanced settings intact is Word 6.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

Chemicalscum (525689) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051706)

I have Word 2 running under both DOSEMU and DOSBOX on my Linux system. It is a legal download from MS.

Re:Inaccurate summary (5, Interesting)

faloi (738831) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049908)

If you really feel that Microsoft stands to lose so much from releasing specs so that people can potentially even work on their most recent formats, then surely you can appreciate that Microsoft has some responsibility to its customers to make sure they can access their data. Most companies would likely be completely happy with a reader or proprietary file converter that would let them open up older documents. You know...like we could essentially always do when a new version of Office rolled around.

All it would take is for Microsoft to release a fully compatible viewer/converter so that everybody can open the oldest of documents, and companies would likely cease to care.

Re:Inaccurate summary (5, Informative)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050072)

All it would take is for Microsoft to release a fully compatible viewer/converter so that everybody can open the oldest of documents, and companies would likely cease to care.

But they have done this for years [microsoft.com] , and yet everybody still complains.

Re:Inaccurate summary (4, Insightful)

ketilwaa (1095727) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050162)

Can you please direct me to Microsoft's Linux versions of those viewers, so I can try them out? Thanks!

Re:Inaccurate summary (4, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050402)

MS is a for-profit company. It is not their job to serve you, answer to you, provide you with public service, or unzip their flies and hand you all their trade secrets so you can develop a competing product. If you don't like their stuff, don't use it. There are plenty of great alternatives like OpenOffice, Linux, Apple's OS, etc. available. Feel free to tell MS to go to Hell. Feel free to never buy one of their products again. Feel free to encourage your friends to do the same.

Re:Inaccurate summary (4, Funny)

nschubach (922175) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050864)

MS is a for-profit company. It is not their job to serve you, provide you with public service...
I thought that was the point of business... I guess I have to re-evaluate my view on what running a business is. I mean, if the people don't matter, why would you need the people your providing a service to? Just kill a man and steal his money. Hell, we can start by exterminating everyone on the planet. Then you'd have the most successful business in the world. Total monopoly, no competition, no taxes, no salaries to pay and total domination!

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

Your.Master (1088569) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051618)

The point of business is to make money. One way to do that is to serve you if you will pay them. But they are not obligated to serve you on your terms, just as you are not obligated to pay them on your terms.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22050878)

If you don't like their stuff, don't use it.

Yet another person who doesn't understand about anti-monopoly laws and how they work. When a company is found guilty of monopoly abuse, under competition law they may be required to change their behaviour. This may include (and already has in MS's case) release of interface/file format documentation to allow interoperability.

If *you* don't like it, campaign to abolish the monopoly laws (good luck with that) or move to a country with no such laws. Until then, it's the law and MS must (eventually) comply with it.

As to whether this particular case (Office document formats) merits application of such laws - it looks as if the EU may well be starting the process of determining whether MS should be forced to do so.

Preemptive: And don't bother with the "Stuff the EU, MS should refuse to sell their products there if they do this sort of thing". MS has no choice but to operate in the EU under EU law. If it withdrew the shareholders could sue the directors (since the cost of EU law compliance is much less than the lost profits from withdrawl).

Of course, US competition/monopoly law is very similar to EU law in the relevant areas; it's just apparent not being applied at present after MS was let off with a slap on the wrist last time.

Re:Inaccurate summary (2, Insightful)

peragrin (659227) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050898)

I would but MSFT is an illegal monopoly in the USA, South Korea, and Europe. Yet they still have total control over file formats.

MSFT is a for profit company which means they should sell products and services people are asking for. People are asking for converters for other OS's. MSFT doesn't even provide converters for OSX an OS which it does support. let alone for other OS's.

If your business is totally dependant on trade secret file formats then you had better be very careful. As the one day that some one builds something better your screwed.

Re:Inaccurate summary (4, Insightful)

howlingmadhowie (943150) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051624)

nope. the whole point of a monopoly and proprietary formats is that you're not screwed. before another company stands a chance, it doesn't just have to build something better, it has to build something better, install it on all computers worldwide and convert all existing documents to the new format. otherwise nobody can move to a different piece of software.

and seeing as the monopoly office suite is made by the same people who make the operating system, it would be trivial for them to not allow a competitor's products to run.

Re:Inaccurate summary (2, Interesting)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051348)

If we're talking consumer products, great! Yes! I have the right not to use them. However, if the document I had been handed wasn't written by my opensource alternative I chose, I'm kind of screwed. Particularly with Microsoft also pretty much in bed with Governments, both the Federal, state and all levels of local municipality, selling them umpteen number of licenses for Office and particularly Word, they do have something of a responsibility to make sure that documents that are created by our own government are readable by the general population. Now, I'm not talking about military secrets here, but if I do a FOIA for some data and I get a word document back, that's really not useful now is it? (Yes, I'll probably get a PDF or actual paper, but it's possible if that's what the document was stored as.)

Re:Inaccurate summary (3, Informative)

QuietLagoon (813062) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051360)

MS is a for-profit company. It is not their job to serve you, answer to you, provide you with public service, or unzip their flies and hand you all their trade secrets

Microsoft is a company that has been found guilty of the illegal leveraging of its monopoly. As such, a different set of laws apply to the sharing of Microsoft's intellectual property. We have already seen that Microsoft can be forced to share its protocols with competitors.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

jahudabudy (714731) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050412)

Because you used your old Linux version of MS Office to create documents in the (now) unsupported formats?

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050838)

Because you used your old Linux version of MS Office to create documents in the (now) unsupported formats?

Actually, Microsoft Word [opsys.com] was available for Xenix [softpanorama.org] and Unix.

I can't help but wonder what the computer world would be like if Microsoft hadn't turned away from Xenix to work on OS/2...

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

jahudabudy (714731) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051166)

I knew Microsoft had fooled around w/ Xenix before going DOS, but I hadn't realized the extent. That softpanorama link looks like a very interesting read; I'll have to check it out more closely later. Thanks!

Re:Inaccurate summary (2, Funny)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050418)

Can you please direct me to Microsoft's Linux versions of those viewers, so I can try them out? Thanks!

Here you go [winehq.org] .

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

Neil Hodges (960909) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050830)

Can you guarantee that it'll run on Wine? Do their viewers require WGA?

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051212)

Can you guarantee that it'll run on Wine? Do their viewers require WGA?

What? Why should I have to guarantee anything about someone elses product? If I want to run a Windows program, I just press a button on my monitor switch box or use my notebook computer.

A quick Google search shows that people are indeed installing and using the viewer programs, so I guess that the answers are yes it does run, and no it doesn't require WGA.

Re:Inaccurate summary (2, Interesting)

Ed Avis (5917) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050784)

Have you tried the viewers under Wine? If you pay attention to EULAs, then you are not allowed to use the accompanying fonts on non-Microsoft systems, but you are allowed to use the viewer.

Re:Inaccurate summary (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22051766)

Why do you feel that Microsoft should start programming for different OSes? If you don't like the fact that your documents can't be opened in Linux, stop using Linux. Or stop creating documents in Word.

Re:Inaccurate summary (2, Insightful)

faloi (738831) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050414)

The oldest supported format is Word 6.0. Some businesses may require older versions. That's the crux of the argument, even their supported tools fail to open some of the much older formats. If Microsoft truly had all the old formats supported, as I stated earlier, they'd be able to really say there's no need.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051628)

Well another alternative to read old files is to legally download Word 5.5 for DOS [microsoft.com] . Warning - this links directly to the EXE (self extracting ZIP) on Microsoft's site.

I found this in the references footnotes on the Microsoft Word Wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org] . I haven't tried it yet. Once I manage to extract some old Word docs from the obsolete tape backup format that I have my old backups on then I will give it a whirl.

Re:Inaccurate summary (3, Informative)

jamar0303 (896820) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050476)

It only goes to 97. There ARE versions of Word and Excel before that. I remember using Word 4.0 for Mac in elementary school to write stuff and still have the disks full of stuff I wrote back then. If not for my old SE/30 with Word 4.0 I wouldn't be able to open those documents anymore.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

jayp00001 (267507) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051250)

All it would take is for Microsoft to release a fully compatible viewer/converter so that everybody can open the oldest of documents, and companies would likely cease to care.


They supposedly have:

http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=95E24C87-8732-48D5-8689-AB826E7B8FDF&displaylang=en [microsoft.com]

I don't have any old docs to test it with but it is descibed as reading all the old files.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

jgarra23 (1109651) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051336)


Microsoft has some responsibility to its customers to make sure they can access their data


They most certainly do not. That's like saying that sony has a responsibility to keep making record players. Sure they do but because of consumer demand not because of some faulty-responsibility.

Now OTOH, it is pretty low for MS to not... but there's certainly no responsibility there...

Re:Inaccurate summary (4, Insightful)

nine-times (778537) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049912)

Seems to me that with Microsoft trying to push everyone to OOXML, the old "doc" and "xls" formats are the obsolete and depreciated formats, even if MS won't officially say so.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1, Flamebait)

someone1234 (830754) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050012)

I don't know what you are talking about.
MS's newest format (ooxml) is supposed to be open.
All other office formats are obsolete.

Re:Inaccurate summary (4, Insightful)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050020)

Those formats are deprecated, the currently selling ms products use the OOXML based formats.

On the other hand, why should it be explicitly limited to old formats? All data should be in open formats for a huge number of reasons, archiving is just one of them.
And formats should be opened up while they are new, once they become old the specs often get lost (try opening a really old word document in the current version), often there never were any formal specs beyond "whatever the program outputs".

Finally as to other formats, yes they should request the release of other proprietary formats, but they are going after the biggest target first as it affects more people... As noble as it would be to get the format specs for Wordworth on the Amiga (a long forgotten app, and its original vendor wont sell me a new copy, give it to me for free, or release the source or any specs, their official line is that my documents are lost), this would only benefit a very small number of people. Also, microsoft disclosing their old formats would set a powerful precedent for others in the industry to follow.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

Cracked Pottery (947450) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050042)

If Microsoft is campaigning to have it's so-called "open" specifications accepted as standards by the ISO, then it is ostensibly committed to interoperability with other office products. Let's face it, word processors and spreadsheets are very mature applications. There would be no damage to Microsoft if they were to release accurate specifications of "legacy" formats into the public domain. And yes, that would permit their robust implementation by other vendors. So what.


Anybody remember what happened to Office 95 users when they upgraded to Office 97? How about the Office 2003 Service Pack. They remedied that, at least for comparatively sophisticated users, but the arrogance speaks volumes.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

I8TheWorm (645702) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050048)

MS's current formats are suffixed with x (docx, xlsx, pptx) which are (in theory alone) open formats. I don't pay a ton of attention to MS's press releases, but last I knew they were yet to be open.

Re:Inaccurate summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22050104)

I have been using OO exclusively since 1.4. But I thought doc has been deprecated. I thought the new format is docx and xlsx etc. If this is the case then all doc, xls,ppt formats are old and deprecated.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

narrowhouse (1949) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050208)

I don't think this is a "shot at MS". Microsoft Office 97,XP, and 2003 are not the only versions that use the familiar xls, doc, and ppt extensions. The file format is different for at least 2 previous versions of Office even though the extensions are the same.I think 2003 even adds some "extensions" to the Microsoft Office 97 format.

Even if they are asking for the current file formats, how is that a shot? Microsoft doesn't plan on supporting the older file format indefinitely (or at least the haven't before) and it will be necessary sometime in the future to recover the information in some files that use it. Once it has been decided to deprecate a file format any responsible company should begin to plan how long term access to file information can be assured. If they don't want to stand behind the format indefinitely public domain is a very reasonable option.

Re:Inaccurate summary (0)

SL Baur (19540) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050284)

This is a thinly disquised shot at MS and closed source formats, not some noble attempt to help out archives.
If you don't think the aim of open file formats is noble, you have serious issues. Who owns your data, you who have created it with the assistance of a tool or the company you bought the software from?

It's not the same thing as opening the source code to MS Office and besides, how many people have written here and elsewhere that Open Office, etc. are crap compared to MS Office?

Your post isn't + informative, it's + astroturfing.

Re:Inaccurate summary (2, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050552)

Who owns your data, you who have created it with the assistance of a tool or the company you bought the software from?

If someone really cared about proprietary formats so much, they always had the option of saving their documents (or at least backups) in neutral formats like rtf. AFAIK, virtually every version of Office has supported these kinds of open formats. People don't use them because the VAST majority of users don't give a rat's ass about the propriety vs. open source issue. Is that MS's fault? Is it their responsibility to promote the open-source/open-document movement? Is it their obligation to roll over and give you all their trade secrets so you can develop an open-source competing product and drive them out of business?

Re:Inaccurate summary (3, Interesting)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050380)

I think that a major problem with many of the old Microsoft formats is that there is no format. They are basically a big memory dump from MS Word, and there's not really a spec of how to actually interpret the information. If the format followed some logical specification, then the OO.o team would have already figured out how to interpret MS Word files.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

rmessenger (1078643) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050392)

asking them to hand over the full specifications on all their EXISTING modern formats--a move that would allow comptetitors to develop Office clones at will.

If the only thing keeping office on the market is an undocumented proprietary format, then office isn't worth the prices they're asking for it. There are hundreds of programmes that produce JPEG format files, but that doesn't mean I can write an Adobe Photoshop clone at will. The programmes should be able to compete without locking people in, and forcing them to use Microsoft products because their documents are already stored in .doc files.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050684)

If the only thing keeping office on the market is an undocumented proprietary format, then office isn't worth the prices they're asking for it.

It probably ISN'T worth the price they're asking for it. Introduce and promote a quality competitor at cheaper price and you could probably overthrow Office (hey, Mozilla is doing it with Firefox).

There are hundreds of programmes that produce JPEG format files, but that doesn't mean I can write an Adobe Photoshop clone at will.
Photoshop's default format is psd, not jpeg. I'm pretty sure psd is a closed source proprietary format (owned by Adobe), though I have seen some pretty good reverse engineering in programs like Pixel. [kanzelsberger.com]

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

Benanov (583592) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051308)

GIMP 2.4 could open a .PSD that someone emailed me once. For some reason the graphics people couldn't open that PSD. Maybe version differences or something. :)

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

MDHowle (634114) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050500)

This is the problem with all closed formats. Why can't the word processor be used by its own merit and not by force? Someone mentioned Adobe above. Photoshop itself is well worth the price because of its features, not because its file format can only work with Photoshop. Yes, opening a format will give an opportunity for clones applications, but can all clones reproduce the features of the application it is cloning?

So just don't use MS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22051056)

It seems to be that the simplest solutions in this case are:

- Don't use MS formats in the first place for your master documents, or
- Keep the appropriate software around and accessible.

I see little incentive for Microsoft to release this information except as a show of good faith to its consumers.

Microsoft Office products do not scale well into the future at all, so don't be surprised when they don't.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051290)

"They're also asking them to hand over the full specifications on all their EXISTING modern formats--a move that would allow competitors to develop Office clones at will."

I really hate to tell you but there is a lot more to a program than the file format. What this will allow is for a company to create a competitor to Office that can exchange files with Office at will.
When you consider the number of companies and government agencies that have documents in Office format this is vital.

But if you really think all you need is a the file format I have the docs for the Wordstar file format around here somewhere. I will be glad to posit and you can knock out Wordstar in a day.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

xtracto (837672) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051452)

-a move that would allow comptetitors to develop Office clones at will.

In these dates of free (as in what matters to most consumers) office suites, do you thing it really matters if other companies create office suites? The fact that a lot of people and companies use Microsoft Office is due to all the ecosystem of applications which form an integrated Solution (that such thing is good, bad, moral, immoral, has bugs or not; other slashdotters will be very glad to flame about).

Besides, who could put *all* the development effort (money) in order to create an office suite like Microsoft's ? Almost all of the currently available office suites read .DOC files in a way or another and I do not see them winning market against MS Office.

Then there is Open Office which would be the most complete replacement for MS Office. The main advantage is that it is free (as in whatever you appreciate more from a bunch of bites, freedom or price). However it is still leaps behind Microsoft Office (if you consider only the main components) and millions of light years behind if you consider the "extra" components (like Publisher, Visio, Project, among the many others [wikipedia.org] ).

A Deprecated MS Format FOSS SHIT (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22049730)

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Vote for the abortion pushing dike Hillary, or better yet, a white male Republican.

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j public requests release from nazi overlords (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22049734)

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http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080108/ts_alt_afp/ushealthfrancemortality;_ylt=A9G_RngbRIVHsYAAfCas0NUE [yahoo.com]
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is it time to get real yet? A LOT of energy is being squandered in attempts to keep US in the dark. in the end (give or take a few 1000 years), the creators will prevail (world without end, etc...), as it has always been. the process of gaining yOUR release from the current hostage situation may not be what you might think it is. butt of course, most of US don't know, or care what a precarious/fatal situation we're in. for example; the insidious attempts by the felonious corepirate nazi execrable to block the suns' light, interfering with a requirement (sunlight) for us to stay healthy/alive. it's likely not good for yOUR health/memories 'else they'd be bragging about it? we're intending for the whoreabully deceptive (they'll do ANYTHING for a bit more monIE/power) felons to give up/fail even further, in attempting to control the 'weather', as well as a # of other things/events.

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(Score:-)mynuts won, the king is a fink)
by ourselves on everyday 24/7

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meanwhile, the life0cidal philistines continue on their path of death, debt, & disruption for most of US. gov. bush denies health care for the little ones;

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Yeah but (3, Interesting)

Arthur B. (806360) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049752)

If you do that, people will never learn and continue to use closed formats. It's too easy to fall for a closed format for your crucial documents and then go whining when the company stops supporting them. Let people pay the price of their mistake, then, then open document formats will pick up steam.

Re:Yeah but (3, Insightful)

TofuMatt (1105351) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049918)

Yes, people should definitely pay for their mistake of buying Office in '97 when they could have got OpenOffi-- oh wait, that's right: it wasn't even released in '97. People don't deserve to "pay for their mistakes" because they bought the best software at the time for office/productivity work. They deserve to scope out the alternatives now (iWork and OpenOffice, though OpenOffice still sucks, largely, except for Writer), but they didn't do anything wrong by buying good yet closed software.

Re: Yeah but (0, Flamebait)

PinkyDead (862370) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051078)

What was their TeX hand broken?

These people didn't even try, they deserve to lose all their documents, and their money and their dogs should be shot too. I have no sympathy for them.

Re:Yeah but (1)

wasabii (693236) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051486)

You're right. Those people are not at fault. But neither is MS. Issue is over. Nobody is at fault, nobody should be compelled to do anything.

Re:Yeah but (1)

toleraen (831634) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049926)

You don't think that message will come across when people have to acquire and install a second word processor/spreadsheet/presentation program? I don't know about you, but I tend to get irritated if I have to have multiple programs installed that essentially perform the same task.

Re:Yeah but (1)

cHiphead (17854) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050706)

You've never worked in a law office that used word perfect...

Re:Yeah but (1)

toleraen (831634) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051178)

So does that mean people who work in law offices that use word perfect really enjoy using multiple word processors?

Re:Yeah but (3, Insightful)

Jeppe Salvesen (101622) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050040)

Oh come on!

Once the company has stopped earning money on a format, they should open it up under an appropriate license. (Patents might play a part, in an ideal world they would not but let's play in this world for now). Microsoft does not make any money on Excel97. Why on earth be so mean to their previously paying customers that they refuse to open that obsolete standard?

BIASEDSUMMARY (1)

n1_111 (597775) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049762)

You should check out latest study by Burton

release a convertor and support legacy! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22049778)

i see only 2 solutions:

1. release a convertor. (it's available)
2. support legacy via providing the convertor instead of actually reading the deprecated formatted document.

we want to move forward, to adopt a standard -give some time to deprecated formats by supporting them till some time (a deadline), and provide conversion tools for free.

nobody wants a html fiasco when it comes to other file formats.

Re:release a convertor and support legacy! (4, Insightful)

NorbrookC (674063) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050682)

we want to move forward, to adopt a standard -give some time to deprecated formats by supporting them till some time (a deadline), and provide conversion tools for free.

Yes, we'd like to have a standard, and one which is readable for a long period of time - which is the point of the whole ODF standard in the first place. The problem with the proprietary formats is that they have every reason to change and a considerable number of reasons to drop support for "deprecated" formats.

I used to work for a medical transcription unit, and we generated over 250K documents annually. It is a non-trivial exercise to convert those documents from one format to another. That doesn't include the loss of formatting which occurs, and there are instances where the formatting is important. This loss occurs even when moving between versions of the same software - just take a Word 97 document and translate it to 2K and then to 2003, and you'll see it.

Your idea is feasible if it's a one-time function. That is, there is a standard format which will be used for a considerable length of time, and you need to translate your older documents into that standard. If you're going to have to do it ever two or three years, it's going to be a non-starter.

Re:release a convertor and support legacy! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22051838)

Uhm - they did release convertors for all of their old file formats to the next version. And OOXML is fully documented. Asking them to release full and accurate specs is just a move to allow the EU to sue them about some part not being fully accurate and slap another fine on MSFT.

Microsoft cant do that (5, Insightful)

a_n_d_e_r_s (136412) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049802)

The reason - they don't have any documents describing the formats.

Code are descriptions of formats.

When Microsoft was forced to disclose information about the SMB format to EU anti-trust department they tried to give them the source code - complaining that it cost them too much to describe the format.

So they are sadly asking for something that dont exists.

Re:Microsoft cant do that (5, Interesting)

adpsimpson (956630) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049910)

Considering the code for rendering the older .doc formats is now officially considered 'unsafe' by Microsoft, and has been disabled in Office 2007, perhaps releasing the code itself (or choice chunks of it) would be just as useful?

Surely if you have a chunk of code for a no longer supported format, which you consider too buggy and unsafe, which is 10 years old and which you've disabled in your latest products, you wouldn't mind letting other people clean it up for free, since it can't be of any commercial value?

Right?

--ducks the '-1 flamebait' mod---

Conversion shouldn't be that hard (2, Interesting)

alexhmit01 (104757) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050454)

It's not NEARLY as clean as Apple's Applescript solution, but since you can script OLE Components, you should be able to set up a computer to migrate the documents. If they are on a file server, you should be able to set up a machine with whatever is the last version of Office that can read the old files, and have it walk through your document tree, looking for each appropriate document. Then it should be able to load it in Office and save it in a newer format.

That would get all your documents in the latest (Office 2003 or something), then you adapt the script to run on a machine with Office 2007 and do the same thing. Presto-chango, your documents are up to date and safe.

Regarding formatting... if you're talking about documents not updated in 5-10 years, you probably don't care that much. You might want the content (I need to go through old hard drives and rescue any high school and college papers I care about, that are now hitting the 10 year old point), but if you haven't used it in years, and then want to use it, you can take the time to reformat. You're preserving because 1% of those documents might be needed in the future, which makes it worthwhile to bring them forward with an automated solution.

Re:Microsoft cant do that (2, Funny)

Ilan Volow (539597) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050618)

If you're the world's largest and most profitable software company, there's probably some commercial value in not looking like a bunch of idiots who can't plan file formats.

Re:Microsoft cant do that (2, Funny)

psbrogna (611644) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050776)

That ship, my friend, has sailed.

Re:Microsoft cant do that (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049934)

>>When Microsoft was forced to disclose information about the SMB format to EU anti-trust department they tried to give them the source code - complaining that it cost them too much to describe the format.

And that is exactly what is wrong with MSFT. no one on the inside have bothered to document what has been done. ballmer just throws a bunch of coders into a room, and tells them it has to work or chairs will be thrown into the room(not true, I hope).

Everyone else Documents their stuff so that any one who wants to know can figure it out later. MSFT is stuck in Propertiery mode so deep that no one can figure out what is going on. Kodak, Xerox, Chrysler, and even IBM have all been there before. They have learned their lesson and keep better control over their setup. for MSFT to change like that though the current management will have to leave.

Re:Microsoft cant do that (3, Informative)

dominator (61418) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049954)

The reason - they don't have any documents describing the formats.


Except, they do. They've released specs for at least Word97, RTF, and PowerPoint's file formats, the OLE container format, and the Excel chart format. The docs were hosted on MSDN for a few years, even. I'm not saying that these docs are perfect or anything (they're far from it), but they're a decent start. I say this as someone who has used the docs to implement popular F/OSS tools that read and write these formats.

http://www.wotsit.org/list.asp?fc=10 [wotsit.org]
http://www.wotsit.org/list.asp?fc=6 [wotsit.org]

Re:Microsoft cant do that (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049964)

I would have to say that that is just what they wanted the EU to think.

When dealing with Microsoft a tinfoil hat may not be a bad idea.

Re:Microsoft cant do that (1)

slim (1652) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050648)

I would have to say that that is just what they wanted the EU to think.
It's probably a good 9 years since I've had cause to look at hex dumps of Office files, but at that time it was fairly obvious that the file format was 'copy the chunk of main memory containing the document to disk', combined with whatever hacks were necessary to make that work.

Re:Microsoft cant do that (1)

ChristTrekker (91442) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051088)

Hey, I'd settle for a source release of Word 5.1! That would be fantastic!

Re:Microsoft cant do that (1)

simong (32944) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051722)

This does seem to be the case. About ten years ago I was involved with the development of an authentication server product. Not unreasonably, one of our customers requested integration with SAM, the NT authentication protocol. They were willing to pay for it, so we approached Microsoft with a request for the SAM API. They told us that it was company confidential and would not be released. The workaround that we invented was to dump the internal database into an Oracle database and authenticate from there. At the time it seemed puzzling that MS wouldn't publish a native method of authentication for their server platform, but now it makes perfect sense. That 'New Technology' was probably nicely written but never documented therefore there wasn't an API. I think some of it was published later, and it can be used with IIS for example, but just not when we wanted it.

Re:Microsoft cant do that (1)

bigdavex (155746) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051856)

The reason - they don't have any documents describing the formats.

Of course they do. Unfortunately, those documents are in Word 2.0 doc format and MS can't figure out how to open them.

Not neccessary (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22049828)

Technically, it would be sufficient for the sake of old documents to provide a free tool that is able to read those documents, or a tool that would convert them to an open document format. This tool wouldn't need to have its source published.

Cost and Mechanics of Certain Free Tools (2, Insightful)

NetSettler (460623) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049998)

it would be sufficient for the sake of old documents to provide a free tool that is able to read those documents, or a tool that would convert them to an open document format. This tool wouldn't need to have its source published.

As noted in another post [slashdot.org] about this article, it may be that there is no "format" other than "the code". If so, then the only free tool that is cheap to make is a wrapper around a complete application that just calls only part of that application. If so, making the wrapped tool free means giving away the entire program, not just the file part. In effect, then, this amounts to requesting that old versions be made free. Any difference between your proposal and asking old versions of their editor to just be made "free" (for whatever free you might be meaning) is just words, I suspect--nothing semantic.

Of course, this comes back to the question of whether there should be software patents at all, and whether software copyrights should have the immensely long durations that they do. Indeed, at some point, probably much shorter than happens now, having old tools be free so they can be recycled for other purposes may not be bad. It might even give vendors a kick in the pants to move faster to make newer tools be different enough that the old tools didn't threaten them. But bypassing a proper change in software copyright and patent law and instead just beating up on certain people who have things one wants does not seem the best approach to me.

Re:Cost and Mechanics of Certain Free Tools (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22051382)

A free tool that is able to read but not write (and hence would not equal giving away the entire program) could be made by, to be slightly facetious, commenting out the lines of code that enable buttons to be pressed and puts icons on the tool bar. Someone may already have thought of this by releasing the freely downloadable Word Viewer 97. This would enable, from the perspective of document holders, their old documents to be viewed for free, and from the perspective of the software producer, people are not able to make use of old programs without paying for them. As an aside, while your view appears to be that software copyright should not exist, mine is that it should, so on that we differ.

http://www.5star-shareware.com/Windows/Business/MS-OfficeAdd-Ins/word-viewer.html [5star-shareware.com]

Opening up OOXML (2, Informative)

adpsimpson (956630) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049840)

The worst proprietary 'hooks' such as 'footnoteLayoutLikeWW8', 'lineWrapLikeWord6' and 'useWord97LineBreakRules', appear now to have been documented - see this link [xmlguru.cz] . This in effect means that some of the quirkier behaviour of old versions of MS Office may now have been made public (difficult to say for sure as the ECMA resolution is behind a passworded site).

Microsoft would make their, and everyone else's, lives a lot easier if they went the whole way and documented the entire depreciated office formats, allowing others to write filters to correctly interpret them. This would also give them a foothold in claiming that the tags above truly do point to an open format, since the behaviours they refer to would be openly documented.

But let's not hold our breath.

No such thing (3, Insightful)

martinag (985168) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049844)

Isn't it quite obvious that there are no specs? The OOXML specs are probably the best they can do when they have to reverse engineer the code into documentation. Don't expect any better than that and furthermore, don't expect them to even try (which they at least have when it comes to the OOXML documentation).

There is no such thing as an obsolete format (0)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049850)

As long as the company will sell you a conversion tool, there is no such thing as an obsolete format.

Re:There is no such thing as an obsolete format (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22050492)

"As long as the company will sell you a conversion tool, there is no such thing as an obsolete format."

Tell that to the Federal Government.

They might not have it... (5, Informative)

Pedrito (94783) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049860)

Microsoft may not have the formats formally specified anywhere...Many, many years ago, shortly before my book [amazon.com] was published, Microsoft actually wanted to hire me to write the official documentation for the Segmented Hyper-Graphic (SHG) file format because their own in-house documentation for the format was for an even older, unsupported version.

I mean, think about it, if you write code to store a document, do you sit down and write the byte-layout of that file? I suppose you could, but it's generally not necessary for the coders. My guess is that MS doesn't even have this stuff lying around. They'd probably have to have someone actually piece it together from the code.

Re:They might not have it... (4, Insightful)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050590)

I mean, think about it, if you write code to store a document, do you sit down and write the byte-layout of that file? I suppose you could, but it's generally not necessary for the coders. My guess is that MS doesn't even have this stuff lying around. They'd probably have to have someone actually piece it together from the code.

At the company I work for, we usually do sit down and document the byte-layout of that file. When this was neglected, it has invariably come round and bit us in the ass ;-)

What specifications? (4, Insightful)

FeatherBoa (469218) | more than 6 years ago | (#22049882)

I think that something people don't get is that there are not and never were comprehensive specifications for these formats. The specification is likely the code and nothing more. The document formats weren't conceived as a du jure standard, they are things that grew over time and evolved. Somewhere at the core you're going to find things like a C structs - from some old and forgotten compiler - being copied verbatim to disk.

Asking Microsoft for the spec will not mean simply taking an existing doc off the shelf and handing it over. It will mean either handing over the code for the old products that read and write those formats or spending person-years of effort combing through that code, constructing a specification, and then, somehow, testing the spec.

I wouldn't hold my breath for either.

Re:What specifications? (2, Funny)

Jeng (926980) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050044)

So basically Microsoft could probably greatly improve their file formats if they sat down and attempted to write out documentation for them?

Re:What specifications? (1)

Your.Master (1088569) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051738)

Yes, which is why it's unfortunate when everybody freaks out about the OOXML specification. They are actually documenting a format, AND opening it to the public. I get that there are deprecated backward-compatibility things that refer to undocumented code, but the stuff as saved in recent software like Word 2007 pretty much uses the well-documented stuff.

But their old stuff was done seat-of-the-pants and they really can't change the history of it. Their competition basically did the same, at the time. Disk space and I/O times mattered more, then, and dumping C structs may well have seemed very reasonable back at the complexity Word 1.0.

Re:What specifications? (0)

tallvegdude (750761) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050166)

The situation is probably uglier than writing C structs directly to a file. If their codebase was in C++, its likely that they used the default object serialization to read/write their files. It would be easy to implement, it would guarantee that all the necessary data got properly saved and restored. It would be a maintenance nightmare in the long term.

Re:What specifications? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22050538)

What is "the default object serialization" in C++? I've haven't used C++ in 5 years, so maybe this is something new that I'm not familiar with.

Thanks.

A world standard? Either support, or publish specs (1)

Morgaine (4316) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050062)

Regardless of whether this particular initiative succeeds or fails, it would be wonderful if community pressure could lead corporations to adopt a "Community Standard" for their proprietary file formats:

Either support your format, or publish a full specification if you abandon it. (Do neither, and you suck, publicly.)

The world is currently headed towards a rather worrying future in which a staggering number of valued documents and other file resources of many types are destined for demise by corporate abandonment. Maybe it's time for communities to stand up and proclaim:

"We're not merely point-in-time consumers of your product. When we invest in your proprietary format by using your tools, we need its longevity safeguarded. Either support the old format, or publish full specs for it so that we can seek that support elsewhere."

I guess it's wishful thinking, but hey, we're paying them, not the other way around. Ultimately, if enough people and their wallets want something done, it will be done.

Re:A world standard? Either support, or publish sp (1)

redxxx (1194349) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051560)

Between the enterprise and government sectors, there could be an awful lot of pressure applied. When you look at the amount of resources that they are committing to a format, it would be in their best interests to contractually ensure that it will still be viable down the road, even after the information has sat on the server so long the format or even its replacement has been depreciated.

While the information could of course still be recovered in such a situation, there is no reason large companies or the government should except the potential expense of having to convert a potentially massive amount of information from legacy formats, potentially through several others using antiquated software. They have a major vested interest in ensuring the operability of the formats they use and the power to demand it. They just need to realize it and combine their influence to achieve it.

or they could just switch to using open standards, of course.

It's About Time (1)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050064)

It's 'way past time for governments to make the commitment to open source software for information storage. It's the only way to ensure that public data gathered at taxpayers' expense is freely available to members of the public or their elected representatives.

Re:It's About Time (1)

crimperman (225941) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050356)

Much as I would love to see public bodies using Open Source software it's not strictly necessary for the purposes of storage longevity.
You are mixing up Open Source and Open Standards. Open Standard formats are what is needed for storage of documents within public bodies. The licence under which they get the software to read such documents matters little within this argument.

Re:It's About Time (1)

kniLnamiJ-neB (754894) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050862)

On the surface, I would agree with your statement, but if you think about it, the standard alone doesn't help us. Microsoft has repeatedly shown that they'll do it their own proprietary way... look at the problems people have with web pages designed only for IE, look at Office documents... there are open standards for these things, but Microsoft just refuses to adhere to them. And because they've got market share, they get away with it.

I think the only way an open standard will ever be adopted is if there is some power of law behind it. If we had known, and pushed open standards way back when Microsoft was a 2-bit startup in someone's garage, we might not have to fight MS so hard today... hindsight's 20/20. But what's needed is for the market share to shift somehow. A few large customers (like the US Government) starting to use open documents instead of MS Office, a few large businesses being willing to take the productivity hit of learning an open-source system in the short-term for a large monetary gain in the long-term (imagine if your company's MS licenses disappeared! Major cost-savings!)... if the market share were spread out a little better, Microsoft would have to at least allow compatibility with open documents... and I think that would probably make everyone a lot happier. I don't mind if they try to make money off their product; I just think some of their policies border on extortion. If MS Office software is *really* that much better, then using an open document format won't hurt them, right?

In other news... (0, Offtopic)

smokejive (1136035) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050068)

In other news, the Dutch open information society requested knowledge of what you are thinking, noting "there is something you can't hide."

Its rare (2, Interesting)

Shados (741919) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050106)

It is rare that I agree with Slashdot articles on such things, but on this, even the most pro-Microsoft zealot cannot really disagree... everybody wins if these specs are released... They're no more supported, don't compete with Microsoft's newer formats, and would -heavily- show all the entities investigating Microsoft's monopoly that they can "do the right thing".

It would also be a superb PR move (even though they don't deserve the publicity for something they should have done on their own long ago): it would reassure clueless CEOs. "See?? We can use closed source software, because once Microsoft doesn't support it, they'll just open it up!!!". It is far from true, but enough would think that way to make it worth it.

So come on MS, do it.

Re:Its rare (1)

BlackSnake112 (912158) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050700)

Perhaps microsoft is afraid that if the open source community gets a starting point for office file formats, then the newer formats can be reverse engineered?

Re:Its rare (1)

Shados (741919) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051096)

Well, you see...Microsoft has been BRIBING standard bodies to convince them that their newer formats were easy to remake (not even reverse engineer).

So I doubt that would be a bad thing.

Re:Its rare (1)

Osrin (599427) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051204)

It is indeed an interesting request, especially when you consider that the office binary document format specification (older and current versions) is already available to any developer under a royalty free license.

http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx/kb/840817 [microsoft.com] - the relevant section is about 2/3 of the way down the KB article. The process to get the documentation could be slicker, but it is at least available.

Doesn't exist (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050126)

Why else would you have stuff like "break lines like W95" in the OOXML spec? Because you don't have an actual description, it means "call that legacy W95 code".

A Little Overblown (2, Insightful)

blueZhift (652272) | more than 6 years ago | (#22050944)

I'm beginning to think that a lot of the worry over old file formats becoming inaccessible in the future is overblown. With the continuing advances of emulation and virtualization technology, it seems highly unlikely that we'll lose all access to documents in old file formats. Emulation of the proper platform and installation of the appropriate software are all that's needed. The real trouble rests with obsolete physical storage media. I still have 5.25" floppies that I haven't been able to read for many years now, but that's hardly Microsoft's fault! And if there's a market for it, someone will be happy to copy all of your old media onto something more modern.

Re:A Little Overblown-NOT NECESSAIRLY (3, Informative)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051048)

I'm beginning to think that a lot of the worry over old file formats becoming inaccessible in the future is overblown. With the continuing advances of emulation and virtualization technology, it seems highly unlikely that we'll lose all access to documents in old file formats.

Cannot agree with you here. Obviously you feel you can continue running Windows 98SE with Office 97 in a virtual partition essentially forever - and in that case, you probably can.

However, the moment you get to Windows XP and recent versions of Office, you hit the dreaded Product Activation bugaboo. Now you're dependent on MS, Adobe, or whomever to continue supporting activation servers as you migrate old software and operating systems to newer virtual platforms. Also EULA's that prevent using software in virtual environments exist. You may well find that running Office 2003 on Windows XP can't be done, legally at least, on the machine that follows your next one. Then where are you?

Windows Write (1)

shadowcabbit (466253) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051156)

Even if all we get out of this is .wri compatibility, I'll be tickled. (I have maybe 2MB of .wri files which are nigh on unreadable on my Mac; the reason they're .wri is because I wrote them fifteen years ago on my parents' computer that barely ran Doom, and they weren't about to pay for Word because it was $600 and I was 13 and had already produced some nice stuff in Write.)

"public domain" not strictly necessary (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#22051432)

All that is necessary is that the formats either be published or that they be made available to interested parties on reasonable terms.

"On reasonable terms" is probably a cut of any commercial product and/or a flat fee for commercial users and a NDA agreement for commercial and non-commercial users.

This will foreclose true open-source implementations but it will allow free implementations and it will allow governments and others a chance to write their own implementations.

Now, personally, I think it would be a very wise business decision for MS to publish all file formats that are not faithfully supported either by its current products or by its current products with MS-provided plug-ins. If Word 2007 renders the file differently than Word 1.0 for DOS then it's not faithful support and the format must be made available so another person or company can try to do it right.
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