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Adam Barr's Open Letter to Jeff Raikes


Adam Barr (a Microsoft developer, though not on MSOffice) writes an Open Letter to Jeff Raikes proposing that Microsoft open up the MSWord binary file format. He is right about the reasoning behind the Massachusetts decision: the logic that let's them support the Acrobat PDF format could apply to the MSWord binary format. But...

This would have been a very smart thing for Microsoft to do a couple of years ago. Now, it is too little, too late. People have been begging for the documentation for years: opening it up now would only seem like a desparate reaction: Would you trust someone who waits to do the right thing until after they've lost?

This seems like a serious strategic blunder on Microsoft's part. MSWord was steamrolling everyone anyway. By keeping the format undocumented, they threw an extra roadblock, but now they cannot call it a standard since no one does that great a job of supporting it. If they chose to document it, the other word processing vendors would have great support. Microsoft could say it was a de facto standard, and they would still be in complete control of it.

Don't underestimate the strategic value of file format control: No vendor would be able to add a feature that was not in MSWord since they couldn't save it to a file. All other word processors would either have to be structured (internally, in code) like MSWord, or have to deal with the mismatch when loading and saving.

One nit with his post: licensing it only for reading would go over like a lead balloon.

Tags: microsoft standard

File Formats: MSWord