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By GCN Staff

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Readers get into the weeds of Microsoft ruling

Our recent stories on the court injunction barring Microsoft from selling Word with Extensible Markup Language features drew some sharp opinions from readers. As might be expected, some of the people who commented on the coverage were glad to see the software giant take a hit. But Microsoft was not alone -- the federal judge in the U.S. District of East Texas who made the ruling as well as the U.S. system for issuing patents also came in for criticism.

More on this topic from GCN:

Microsoft gets little sympathy from federal (non)fan base

Microsoft seeks emergency stay in Word patent dispute

Federal future cloudy for Microsoft Word

Court ruling puts brakes on sales of Microsoft Word

Other readers suggested that everyone take a deep breath and let the case play out, arguing that the ruling will not mean the end of Word. And others held forth on open-source vs. proprietary software.

The judge agreed with a claim by the Canadian company i4i that Microsoft violated its patent for technology used to read .XML and .DOCM files containing custom XML, ruling that Microsoft stop selling Word products "that have the capability of opening a .XML, .DOCX, or .DOCM file ('an XML file') containing custom XML." Microsoft has filed a motion to stay the injunction.

“The next time you talk to Microsoft, ask them how many times they used the term "CustomXML" in the OOXML Standard that they put through the ISO Fast Track Process,” wrote one reader. “I've heard that it's referenced over 1,000 times. If that's the case, it's nice of them to put forth a Standard that supports the infringement of someone else’s patent.”

Another reader questioned why a patent was issued in the first place, writing: “Yes more proof of the stupidity of the U.S. patent system. How any company can be awarded a patent that allows for embedding of custom XML in an XML file is absurd. Why have an open standard if proprietary patents can be applied to selective parts of it?”

Another anonymous writer agreed: “The words ‘custom XML’ do not equate to patent infringement. There are thousands of implementations of custom XML out there. The first key is whether or not Microsoft actually infringed on a patent. That is not always an easy thing to determine, particularly by a judge who has studied law and not software development.” The writer, in a long post, went on to suggest that a higher court would overturn the ruling, but that, if it did stand, one of three things would result:

  1. Microsoft reaches a licensing agreement with i4i.
  2. Microsoft redesigns how it handles XML.
  3. Microsoft will develop an add-on for i4i products.

Other readers were ready to clear the benches. “Much ado about nothing. If federal officials are worried, it is simply because they don't understand the market,” wrote one. “Like most of the incompetent people sitting on our benches these days, the judge is an idiot. Microsoft isn't going to stop selling word processing software just because some judge hits them with an injunction.”

And another: “Sounds like some biased judging with this case. Many contenders would like to stick it to the software giant and makes me wonder how justified the ruling is with this case.”

And what about open source? “Open Source Code is a bad idea for the government due to security reasons. Cybersecurity is a top issue I cannot see why we would open up a code to all the hackers that already infiltrate the system,” wrote one reader.

In response, reader Elias Aarnio disagreed: “Once again here we can see a comment from someone who does not understand computer security at all. Opening the source to the public is a way to increase data security. Why is this? Simply because the opposite strategy commonly called 'security by obscurity' does not work. Quite the opposite: The holes in the system remain unknown to the sysadmins themselves and exploitation and stealing data can go on for ages.”

Senshikaze wrote: “And yet, the Open Source OpenOffice.org wasn't even mentioned as a possible competitor to Office. Having court documents and government documents locked into a format that will be unreadable in five years is not my idea of a good move by any government IT.”

And Derick Centeno explained: “Open-source software functions on the principle that safety exists when all or many eyes are on the code. … This process appears counterintuitive until one thinks it through. This doesn't mean that a project like Openoffice.org or Abiword is free of problems; it does mean, however, that a sysAdmin or group of federal or other government official SysAdmins can apply such projects to their own uses theoretically with better assurance of what that code is actually doing -- this cannot be said of any proprietary code from Microsoft or anyone else.”

Posted by Kevin McCaney on Aug 20, 2009 at 9:39 AM


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