Microsoft tool checks for custom XML in Word files

Microsoft's court loss to i4i Inc. has spawned a makeshift tool to check for patent-infringing technology in Word files.

The free tool can be used to scan .docx and .docm Word documents. It generates a log file that lists "custom XML" code references in the Word files. The unsupported tool is described by Gray Knowlton, a Microsoft product management team leader for Office developers, and it can be downloaded at his blog page here.

Custom XML is a term used by Microsoft to describe user-defined schemas in XML, according to the inventor of the technology, Michel Vulpe, founder and chief technology officer at i4i. Microsoft was enjoined from selling copies of Office 2007 and Office 2003 that use this technology after Jan. 10, according to a court decision, which was upheld on appeal

The scanning tool might be just for the morbidly curious. Existing users of Office 2007 and Office 2003 do not have to stop using those products, nor do they even have to care that custom XML code is used in those products. Those who buy Office products today, however, will use updated technology, or they will be prompted by Microsoft to apply a patch that avoids the infringing technology.

"The documents identified by the tool as containing custom XML markup are themselves not affected by the ruling, and require no action on your part," Knowlton explained in the blog. "What positive scan results will indicate are documents that will behave differently when opened in patched and unpatched versions of Office."

Knowlton added that the tool can be used to help determine "possible areas of impact for your specific IT environment."

In other blog posts, Knowlton explained that the custom XML technology can also be identified by "pink tags" that show up around the tagged content. The court's judgment against Microsoft doesn't apply to ECMA and ISO/IEC standards for Office Open XML, according to Knowlton.

"Even if Word's specific implementation of custom XML support does infringe the i4i patent (which Microsoft does not believe to be the case), i4i has never claimed that its patent is essential to the OXML standard," Knowlton wrote in his blog. Microsoft is currently seeking a rehearing of the i4i case.

Some news accounts reported that copies of Office 2007 and Office 2003 were removed from store shelves after the Jan. 10 injunction date. However, the Microsoft Store in Mission Viejo, Calif., currently stocks all editions of the products, according to a store associate reached via telephone. Possibly, there's disruption in ordering the products online. An attempt to order full editions of Office 2007 from Microsoft's online store produced a "temporarily out of stock" message. However, a check at Amazon.com showed the products to be in stock.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is the online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group sites, including Redmondmag.com, RCPmag.com and MCPmag.com.

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