Microsoft, Apache POI and the Open Specification Promise


I have been working with Sam Ramji and Robert Duffner from Microsoft, and I have been very pleased to resolve the issues that I had with the work they are funding for the Apache POI project. Not only has Microsoft addressed the concerns that I had with regards to patents and OOXML, but they have gone a step further and added the binary formats to the list. By publishing their clarifications to the Open Specification Promise (OSP), Microsoft has acted both in good faith and purpose. For me personally, this is a big step forward. At one time, I donated my Open Source project to Apache, partially out of fear of Microsoft. Now, Microsoft is becoming a key contributor to this project.

Although the OSP does not address some of the edge cases where work may be required for compatibility but not for implementing the specification, Microsoft has agreed to go further and sign a specific agreement with Apache which will address this concern for the work they have funded with POI. Furthermore, the OSP will be managed as a legal product much like the way that an Open Source project is, with revisions as they are needed.

It is prudent for the Open Source community to work cautiously with any large corporation. Having dealt in the past with Sun and IBM, I know that any such relationship will have its ups and downs. Microsoft has had an adversarial relationship with the Open Source community, including making vague and unsubstantiated patent claims towards Linux, but there are good people at Microsoft working in good faith to bridge this gap. While individuals at Microsoft may do this for altruistic reasons, companies behave in this way due to rational self interest. Therefore, as open source technologists, we can compete with Microsoft in some areas (hopefully not in the courtroom), and cooperate in other areas. This situation is, fortunately, an area of the latter.

For my part, I look forward to further cooperation with Microsoft. It has been a pleasure working with Sam Ramji and Robert Duffner. I might not have had this opportunity had it not been for a certain OSI Board member / Open Source diva along with Sam Ruby. Thanks.

-Andrew C. Oliver
Professional Open Source Developer
Founder, Apache POI
Member, OSI