Ben Laurie blathering

Microsoft Open Specification Promise

Kim Cameron announced that Microsoft are making it possible for anyone to implement Infocard-compatible systems (and other systems the depend on the same protocols), via the Open Specification Promise.

First off, let me say that this is a huge step forward – there’s been a great deal of uncertainty around WS-* and friends because of the various patents various companies own. Microsoft taking this step definitely helps.

But, there are some details that worry me – firstly I am curious why Microsoft have taken the approach of this promise rather than an explicit licence. I’ve talked to various lawyers about it, and the general feeling I get is that they’d be more comfortable with a licence, but they can’t point to anything obviously wrong with the promise approach.

Secondly, there’s this definition:

“Microsoft Necessary Claims” are those claims of Microsoft-owned or Microsoft-controlled patents that are necessary to implement only the required portions of the Covered Specification that are described in detail and not merely referenced in such Specification. “Covered Specifications” are listed below.

(my italics). Now, I’ve implemented a lot of software from protocol specifications, and there are two things that are extremely common:

  • The specifications include many optional parts. These parts will not be covered by Microsoft’s promise.
  • The specifications reference other specifications for vital parts of their implementation. These parts will not be covered by Microsoft’s promise.

Now, exactly what affect these considerations have on Microsoft’s promise and implementations of WS-* et al is something I have not had the time or energy to assess – perhaps others with more intimate knowledge of the specs could help me out there? I’d love to hear that, in fact, this is a non-problem.

Another factor to consider is that (as I understand it) Microsoft are not the only people with IP around these standards. Will everyone else be so generous with their IP? Microsoft don’t care, of course, because they have the usual patent mutually assured destruction – but those of us with smaller patent portfolios are not so fortunate.

So, as always, I guess I’m an optimistic cynic.

Incidentally, another thing Kim has talked about several times is Microsoft allowing exact copies of their user interface. I’m in two minds whether its a good idea to copy it, but this promise doesn’t cover the UI, as far as I can see. I wonder when that piece will be forthcoming?


  1. Further than just UI questions: Note that the promise doesn’t cover the actual CardSpace “specifications” (just informal documentation so far) either! Mike Jones said as much here.

    Comment by Eve M. — 14 Sep 2006 @ 15:14

  2. Oops, screwed up that last link. Mike’s comment is here.

    Comment by Eve M. — 14 Sep 2006 @ 15:15

  3. […] LinksBen Laurie blathering « Microsoft Open Specification Promise […]

    Pingback by Links » OSP: Response — 15 Sep 2006 @ 13:38

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