Modern Software Experience


not secret

The binary formats used by Microsoft Office are not secret. They have been available under a royalty-free license agreement for some time. The most interesting parts of that agreement are the patent covenant. The patent covenant says that you can implement the specifications without patent worries, as long as you do not sue Microsoft over it either.


The license Microsoft offers is categorised as a RAND-Z license; the license terms are Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory, with a Zero royalty fee. The only problem is that you have to wait for Microsoft to accept your request and provide you with the documents.


Brian Jones writes that, in response to concerns about the binary formats, as they relate to the Open XML specification, Microsoft has decided to make the documents available for direct download under Microsoft Open Speciation Promise (OSP). Microsoft already made that promise for the Open XML 1.0 specification itself. Microsoft originally offered Open XML under their Covenant Not to Sue (CNS) and now also offering it under its OSP.

open source

Additionally, Microsoft intends to create an open source project for translation of the binary formats to Open XML. Microsoft do so on instead of its own CodePlex open source hosting site. This is not entirely surprising, Microsoft’s Open XML Translator project, which provides support for ODF in Office, is hosted on SourceForge too.


Microsoft obviously already has code that performs the conversion in Office itself, but creating a stand-alone open source converter may still take some time.

Until they do so, you can take advantage of Office File Converter (OFC) included in the Microsoft Office Migration Planning Manager, for bulk conversion of Office files to the Office 2007 formats.

Microsoft has promised public availability of the Office document formats by 2008 Feb 15, just before the next ISO meeting.


2008-02-15 follow-up

Follow-up: Microsoft releases office Binary Formats.

2011-04-24 Covenant not to Sue

The Microsoft Covenant not to Sue appears to have been removed. The broken link has been removed.