LXer Feature: An Interview with Lawrence Rosen, Open Source Lawyer

Posted by tadelste on Jan 1, 2006 7:27 AM
LXer; By Herschel Cohen

Lawrence Rosen publicly backed Microsoft's Open Office XML as sufficiently open to all parties to warrant its use as an open data format. It was because of this stance, I thought LXer readers would be interested to learn upon what basis he came to this decision and to learn if he has any doubts. To say more would be unfair to the interviewee, hence, please read his responses. While the interview is short there is much to consider.

Introduction

Lawrence Rosen, an attorney long associated with open source issues RosenLaw graciously agreed to be interviewed. Since he was preparing to leave on the 5th for over a week, he quickly responded to a smaller set of questions than planned promptly.

Interview

LXer: Let me begin by stating I was surprised (perhaps shocked would be a better word) upon reading of your acceptance of Microsoft's Open XML being a sufficiently open to meet the needs of the State of Massachusetts. Moreover, my initial response predated my running across your earlier critique [1] of what to me seemed to be essentially the nearly equivalent offer by Microsoft. Hence, as my first question:



What difference did you perceive in that latest statement of the Microsoft offer to allow their Open XML to warrant your support?



Rosen:Microsoft's covenant not to sue satisfied my concerns in ways that their earlier license did not: (1) it was consistent with sublicensing, and (2) it required no notice provision to be inserted into our licenses. Once those two conditions were satisfied, then the Microsoft offer was not substantively different from the Sun and Adobe offers for similar technology.

LXer:Do you now think that your backing of Microsoft's Open XML was premature, since they have clarified their openness to the limits of submitting their standard to a European standards body (but well into the future even for submission) and the promise not to sue?

Rosen: No. It is up to the open source community and the companies that support it to join Ecma and help drive the standard technically in appropriate ways. It is also up to the open source community to join OASIS and help drive the OpenDocument standard too.

LXer: What is there in the Microsoft's assurances to stop them from later changes that obsolete this version of their Open (Office) XML?

Rosen: Software always changes. In later versions. Microsoft may indeed try to lock its customers into a proprietary fork. But THIS version is open and we should acknowledge it. If Microsoft drives itself into an unacceptable fork later, we and their customers will complain at the appropriate time. To paraphrase from Wikipedia (you referred me here), "Organizations and individuals that store their data in an open format such as [Microsoft's Open XML] [OpenDocument] avoid being locked in to a single software vendor, leaving them free to switch software if their current vendor goes out of business, raises their prices, changes their software, or changes their licensing terms to something less favorable."

Notice that the same statement applies whether it is [Microsoft's Open XML] or [OpenDocument] format we're talking about.

LXer: There is at least one opinion I have now read that sees the Open Data Format (ODF) as a near impossibility to implement successfully[2].

What future, if any, do you see for a nearly universally agreed upon really open data format being accepted (ODF) or some other variant?

Rosen: I'm completely in favor of open data formats. I'm not sure that a "universal" data format is what's needed, but I have an open mind on that.

What's most important is that the technology experts can work toward open data format(s) without worrying about patent encumbrances. Both Sun and Microsoft have made important contributions toward that goal.

Closing

While I cannot promise, I would like to see if Larry will grant a modest extension to this interview, I have at least one other question I would like to ask. Other suggestions may be may in the comments section. Please note, however, there is no assurance that a second interview will take place.



[1] See Wikipedia entry on Open Document and [your] quote: ".[The Microsoft license] not only prevents transfer or sublicensing of the patent rights,...but it also requires that open source developers put Microsoft's patent notices in our licenses." ... "disputes Microsoft's claims of broad compatibility ...", etc.

[2] Why open document failed in Massachusetts, and how it could have been different. Though s/he stresses how in the title that it was possible, the tenor of the view was nearly uniformly negative.

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