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Public Request For Microsoft To Release Deprecated File Formats 154

Posted by Zonk
from the don't-hold-your-breath dept.
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situation to end up with files that cannot be read because the sole vendor with the documentation for the files has withdrawn permission.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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Public Request For Microsoft To Release Deprecated File Formats

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  • Inaccurate summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:26AM (#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.

    • by tonsofpcs (687961) <slashbackNO@SPAMtonsofpcs.com> on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:31AM (#22049758) Homepage Journal
      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.
      • I have Word 2 running under both DOSEMU and DOSBOX on my Linux system. It is a legal download from MS.
      • by hairyfeet (841228)
        Try Open Office 1.1.5 [openoffice.org]. While I can't be sure about Office 2.0, I do have plenty of Word 5 and 6 docs and they open just fine in OO.o 1.1.5, and it is also great for older machines, as it uses a lot less resources than the latest and greatest.

        I do most of my doc work on a 1.1Ghz Celeron with 512Mb of ram, and 1.1.5 is really zippy, especially after going into the memory options and tweaking them a little. That is why I always install 1.1.5 on older machines instead of the newest release. When most of the t

    • by faloi (738831) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:43AM (#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.
      • by Gadget_Guy (627405) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:58AM (#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.

        • by ketilwaa (1095727) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @11:04AM (#22050162) Homepage
          Can you please direct me to Microsoft's Linux versions of those viewers, so I can try them out? Thanks!
          • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @11:25AM (#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.
            • by nschubach (922175) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @12:00PM (#22050864) Journal

              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!
              • 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.
                • by dpilot (134227) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @02:58PM (#22054496) Homepage Journal
                  Once upon a time, someone told us that the point of a business was to take your money, and have you feel happy about it. In other words, you give the business money, but feel that you have received fair value of goods and/or services in exchange.

                  The point of a free market is that if the above conditions are not true, you should be able to do business with someone else, instead.

                  Relate this to Microsoft as you will. But keep in mind a few things...
                  - There are very few viable (The word "viable" can scope quite a few meanings, here.) competitors to Microsoft in many situations.
                  - Many times their real customer is not you, but someone else - a supplier of one sort or another. Your involvement may be many-times indirect.
                  - Microsoft has been found guilty of illegal monopoly practices in a court of law.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by peragrin (659227)
              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 so
              • by howlingmadhowie (943150) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @12:50PM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

              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 gove
            • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @12:33PM (#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.

              • by elrous0 (869638) *
                Using laws to get your way just because the market doesn't support it is nothing more than bullying. The mass market has consistently chosen Windows, for good or ill. As tempting as it is for MS-hating, Linux/Apple-loving /.er's to fantasize about a MS-free world, using the laws to strip MS of all its IP and drive them out of business will only create chaos and consumer resentment.

                p. If you REALLY want Linux to win, follow Mozilla's lead--make a better product and spread the word. I'm viewing this page rig

                • The mass market has consistently chosen Windows

                  You obviously have not read the Finding of Fact in the Microsoft anti-trust case. The Finding of Fact that was not, by the way, overturned by the Appeals Court. There was little choice involved by the end users in building Microsoft's monopoly.

                  As tempting as it is for MS-hating, Linux/Apple-loving /.er's to fantasize about a MS-free world, using the laws to strip MS of all its IP

                  Microsoft knew the consequences of their actions when they engaged in

            • Msft is for-profit, and that is fine with me.

              As I understand it, msft sells software, not file formats. HTML is an open format, yet msft, and many others, sell HTML editors. Same with ASCII. RTF, and PDF.

              It would not cost msft anything to open their formats, so what is the problem? People buy ms-office because it's better than any other office product, not because they are locked in to a proprietary format, correct?

              Also, isn't msft saying that OOXML is wide-open? But the OOXML refer to old .doc formats - an
          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Gadget_Guy (627405)

            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].

            • by Karellen (104380)
              Sorry, Wine doesn't run on my Linux/PPC or my Linux/Sparc systems or my NEO1973. Got any other ideas for opening those documents on Linuxen other than Linux/x86-32?
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Ed Avis (5917)
            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: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward
            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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by faloi (738831)
          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.
        • by jamar0303 (896820) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @11:31AM (#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.
      • by jgarra23 (1109651)

        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...
    • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:43AM (#22049912) Homepage
      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: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by someone1234 (830754)
      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.
      • I bet some eager mods thought i talk about ODF :)
        Of course, i wrote about MS's older binary formats, heh.
      • by ls -la (937805)
        How is this flamebait? Microsoft's newest Office product defaults to the OOXML formats, and considers the older formats deprecated. The fact that very few people have converted to the new formats doesn't change the fact that the old ones are deprecated.
    • by Bert64 (520050) <bert@@@slashdot...firenzee...com> on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:54AM (#22050020) Homepage
      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.
    • 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 O

    • by I8TheWorm (645702) *
      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.
    • by narrowhouse (1949)
      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 befor
    • by SL Baur (19540)

      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by elrous0 (869638) *

        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? I

    • by CastrTroy (595695) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @11:22AM (#22050380) Homepage
      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.
      • If the format followed some logical specification, then the OO.o team would have already figured out how to interpret MS Word files.


        You mean they haven't? That's news to me! My copy of OO.o can open, edit and save in MSWord 97/2000/XP, MSWord 2003 XML, MSWord 95 and MSWord 6 formats, among many others.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)
      "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
    • by xtracto (837672)
      -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
    • by Asmodai (13932)
      It is not a pretense.
      Right now in the Netherlands there's a lot of work underway to creating various repositories of scientic knowledge. This includes a lot of published papers from various universities from many years ago up to the recent years. Many of these old files are written in exotic file formats that can now only be played by deploying VMWare setups with the appropriate old OS and program in order to make such files available in these public repositories. As such it is very important to have open f
    • by PPH (736903)
      I think you parsed that sencence incorrectly.

      ...full blueprints of the many different versions of Microsoft's old Office formats...

      'Many' versions of 'old' formats is all they are asking for.

      Not just the Word for DOS .doc format, which is probably all that Microsoft's legal team would deliver had the request not been written this broadly.

      <flamebait>But then parsing things incorrectly seems to be one of Microsoft's many problems.</flamebait>

    • "many different versions" of doc, xls, and ppt are NOT old, obsolete file formats.


      And presumably these are not being called for release.


      I take it that they are calling for release the format for "many different versions" of doc, xls, and ppt that ARE old obsolete file formats.


      There may be something else in the release that implies a different intent, but not in the quote you extracted.

  • Yeah but (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Arthur B. (806360) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:30AM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TofuMatt (1105351)
      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.
      • by wasabii (693236)
        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.
    • by toleraen (831634)
      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.
      • by cHiphead (17854)
        You've never worked in a law office that used word perfect...
        • by toleraen (831634)
          So does that mean people who work in law offices that use word perfect really enjoy using multiple word processors?
          • by cHiphead (17854)
            Actually, it implies that people who work in law offices probably use multiple word processors out of need, regardless of enjoyment. I mean really, who in their right mind 'enjoys' using just one word processor?

            Cheers.
    • Re:Yeah but (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Jeppe Salvesen (101622) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:55AM (#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?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    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.
    • by NorbrookC (674063) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @11:46AM (#22050682) Journal

      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.

      • by L0rdJedi (65690)
        Then don't convert them. Simply install a free PDF converter or Adobe Acrobat 5 and print them all to PDF. Then you'll be able to use any PDF reader on the planet to read them. As long as you don't need to make any changes, which could be done with full Acrobat anyway, you're set.
  • by a_n_d_e_r_s (136412) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:35AM (#22049802) Homepage Journal
    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.
    • by adpsimpson (956630) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:43AM (#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---

      • 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 late
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Ilan Volow (539597)
        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.
    • by peragrin (659227)
      >>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 o
    • by dominator (61418) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:48AM (#22049954) Homepage

      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]
    • by Jeng (926980)
      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.
      • by slim (1652)

        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.
    • by simong (32944)
      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. A
      • by operagost (62405)
        SAM stands for Security Accounts Manager and functions as the database system, not the authentication protocol, for Windows NT. The authentication protocols include NTLM and LM, and allow you to communicate with the Local Security Authority (LSA) and in turn, the SAM. If you had simply used one of these instead of trying to hack the SAM database directly, you would not have had a problem. Furthermore, if this was Windows 2000, you could have implemented a domain controller with AD and used LDAP. Countle
    • by bigdavex (155746)

      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.

    • by MrNemesis (587188)
      So they are sadly asking for something that dont exists.
      A

      grep '#' *.c
      might be a good place to start though, but I'll have to assume that's outside of MS's ability when it comes to providing a service for their loyal custo... ah, I think I just answered my own question.
      • by jgrahn (181062)

        grep '#' *.c
        might be a good place to start though

        The documentation is encoded into CPP macro definitions? Gross.

    • So you're saying that Microsoft could spend time writing such docs (assuming they don't actually exist) but they're currently getting away with not being compelled to do that. By the way, besides Microsoft's say so do you have any evidence to justify this belief that these docs don't exist? I'm not one to believe an organization that spends so much time being duplicitous and illegally leveraging their monopoly.
  • Not neccessary (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    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.
    • 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 t

    • I was chatting to a MS employee about exactly this problem last year - I was holding forth on the need for (people like) archivists to be able to open legacy document formats, and apparently there's quite a movement for virtual machines with the right OS and Office versions to be made available for libraries and so on. I'm pretty sure this has actually been done, but I can't remember who for.
  • Opening up OOXML (Score:2, Informative)

    by adpsimpson (956630)

    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,

    • by temcat (873475)
      I tried to download some PDF files with "Proposed Dispositions" from that site (specifically, CZ-0014.pdf and CZ-0039.pdf), but in fact they do not appear to be PDF files.
  • No such thing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by martinag (985168) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:38AM (#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).
  • As long as the company will sell you a conversion tool, there is no such thing as an obsolete format.
  • by Pedrito (94783) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:40AM (#22049860) Homepage
    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.
    • by Lonewolf666 (259450) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @11:39AM (#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 ;-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by roystgnr (4015) *
      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?

      Yes, of course. Is there any other industry where this attitude would be accepted?

      "Blueprints? No, we just hammer some wood together until we think it won't fall down, or until we run out of nails."
    • if you write code to store a document, do you sit down and write the byte-layout of that file?

      Ummmm, yes.

      If you want someone else (for instance) to be able to write code to read the bytestream that your code writes.

      Unless you want them to work out the format by reading your code.

  • by FeatherBoa (469218) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @10:42AM (#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: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Jeng (926980)
      So basically Microsoft could probably greatly improve their file formats if they sat down and attempted to write out documentation for them?

      • 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. D
        • Their competition basically did the same, at the time.


          No they didn't. The WordStar format was always well documented and understood by third-party programmers, which is why so many other programs of the time used it. Back when WordPerfect 5.1 was the latest and greatest, any developer could buy a copy of the specs and write their own programs to read, edit and save WP 5.1 files. As far as I know, only Microsoft (or MicroSoft as it was known back then) kept their formats Top Secret.

      • by dpilot (134227)
        First you have to define "improve", and for that you need to understand the goals of the file format.

        If the purpose of the file format is to keep people coming back to buy MS Office upgrades, and get their friends and co-workers to buy MS Office too, then it just doesn't get much better than the existing formats. Document the format properly and it becomes difficult to drag your feet when it comes to complying with court requests for that documentation. If the documentation doesn't exist, or if the only d
  • 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 aban
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Its rare (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shados (741919) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @11:00AM (#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.
    • by Osrin (599427) *
      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.
  • 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 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by blueZhift (652272) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @12:05PM (#22050944) Homepage Journal
    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.
    • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @12:12PM (#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?

  • 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.)
  • by Jim Hall (2985) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @02:04PM (#22053194) Homepage

    Based on my previous successes in getting Microsoft to release the source code to the deprecated MS-DOS 4.x (i.e. before the MS-DOS 5.0 complete re-write) under a free / open-source license, I'm confident that Microsoft will be happy to release deprecated file formats under a similar license.

    Oh, wait ...

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