Open Source Firm Teams With Microsoft

Despite continued turmoil over standardization efforts surrounding its latest Office file formats, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) announced this week it is pairing with Sourcesense, a European open source systems integrator, to work on projects that integrate open source software with the Office 2007 applications suite.

That and a second announcement seem to be meant to telegraph to developers and users a Microsoft commitment to expanding support for open source projects.

The two companies plan to help develop a new version of the Apache POI Java libraries for handling Office file formats, with updated programming interfaces built to support Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML) file formats, according to a joint statement.

“Donating code to an established, consensus-driven organization such as the Apache Software Foundation benefits both our customers and the open source community at large,” Sam Ramji, senior director of platform technology strategy at Microsoft, said in a statement.

That makes good financial sense to one senior analyst who watches Microsoft.

“It’s Microsoft recognizing where its money comes from,” Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft, told “Technology that accesses the Office formats helps the company financially.”

The Apache POI is an ongoing top-level project of the Apache Software Foundation (ASF). Its intent is to provide Java application programming interfaces that read and write Office binary file formats. The collaboration between Sourcesense and Microsoft will help extend support to include Office 2007 – specifically .docx for Word, .xlsx for Excel, and .pptx for PowerPoint.

“At this time, none of our [Apache POI] releases support the new Office Open XML file formats, such as .xlsx or .docx. Work to support these is in progress, and …. we expect this support to make it into a full release by the summer,” said a statement on the ASF’s Website. (POI is short for the earlier humorous name of “Poor Obfuscation Implementation.”)

Meanwhile, in a related move meant to encourage open source developers to use XAML (eXtensible Application Markup Language) in their programs, Microsoft separately announced it is putting more of the language’s specification under its Open Specification Promise (OSP) usage license.

Pronounced like “camel” but with a “z,” XAML is Microsoft’s XML dialect for programming Windows Vista’s Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF).

The OSP is a Microsoft initiative started in 2006 that allows developers to use specifications for designated Microsoft patents free of charge and without fear of the company suing them. So far, the OSP covers specifications for Web services, virtualization, Office file formats, and security, among others.

“Both XAML and OOXML are all about supporting Microsoft’s client franchises – Office and Windows,” Helm said.

In WPF, XAML is used for writing user interface elements as well as other functions. It is also used for programming the Windows Workflow Foundation (WF), and works with Microsoft’s .NET 3.0 framework and later.

“Microsoft’s posting of the expanded set of XAML format documentation to assist third parties to access and implement the XAML formats in their own client, server and tool products will help promote interoperability, opportunity and choice across the IT community,” Tom Robertson, general manager of interoperability and standards at Microsoft, said in a statement e-mailed to

“Use of the Open Specification Promise assures developers that they can use any Microsoft patents needed to implement all or part of the XAML formats for free, anywhere in the world, now and in the future,” Robertson added. The additional XAML specifications documentation is available here.

Meanwhile, Microsoft may also have some political motives behind announcing the two initiatives this week. Saturday is the last day for nations involved in the effort to decide whether or not to make OOXML an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard to change their votes.

“Creating lots of noise around quasi-open source [projects] this week is going to help Microsoft’s image going into this vote,” Helm said.

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