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08.17.09

How Bill Gates Denied Access to Office File Format Documentation to Stifle Competition

Posted in Antitrust, Bill Gates, Formats, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument at 1:18 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Microsoft’s former chairman shows the company’s attitude towards accessible file formats and competition

IT is interesting enough to know that Microsoft deliberately makes its documentation deficient and unavailable (the word “undocumentation” is actually used internally), but to know who is responsible for it is even more interesting. Comes vs Microsoft Exhibit PX03104 (2000) [PDF] provides an answer which fits the pattern seen in other E-mails.

We’ve recently change the policy for distributing our file formats, at the request of BillG. We used to be fairly lax about giving it out to pretty much everyone who asked for it (Excel even published a book through MS Press).

Our new policy (for Office2000) is that there are restrictions on use (can’t build converters, can’t be a competitor to any of the apps, etc). We required a signed license agreement in hand before we’ll send them the docs. They have to tell us who they are and what their company does, as well as their intended use.

Privileged Material
Redacted

Once we get a copy of the signed agreement back, I sign for Microsoft, and we send them back a hard copy of the agreement via snail mail, and send them the docs via email

This should not be particularly surprising. See other Comes vs Microsoft exhibits that we covered in:

For the investigative, there is more in our Wiki. The full text from this latest exhibit can be found beneath. It is particularly valuable to those who study Microsoft’s reluctance to support open standards, let alone permit other office suites to inter-operate (free of charge). Based on the correspondence below, Microsoft deliberately targets possible competition and hinders access to vital data if the competition is serious. Shouldn’t the European Commission take a look?


Appendix: Comes vs. Microsoft – exhibit PX03104, as text


From: Marc Olson
Sent: Wednesday, May 24, 2000 7:21 AM
To: Norman Gilinsky
Cc: Joel Frauenheim
Subject: RE: Visio file format

Thanks, he sent a message to the alias and I’ve been in touch with him.

—-Original Message—-
From: Norman Gilinsky
Sent: Wednesday, May 24, 2000 7:01 AM
To: Marc Olson
Cc: Joel Frauenheim
Subject: RE: Visio file format

Joel Frauenheim will be handling distribution of file format

Norm

—-Original Message—-
From: Marc Olson
Sent: Monday, May 22, 2000 3:49 PM
To: Norman Gilinsky
Subject: FW: Visio file format

Hi Norm,

I don’t know how urgent this project is–is someone covering the file format distribution in Tim’s absence?

Marc

—-Original Message—-
From: Marc Olson
Sent: Monday, May 22, 2000 7:48 AM
To: Tim Davenport
Cc: Erich Andersen (LCA)
Subject: RE: Visio file format

Hi Tim,

We’ve recently change the policy for distributing our file formats, at the request of BillG. We used to be fairly lax about giving it out to pretty much everyone who asked for it (Excel even published a book through MS Press).

Our new policy (for Office2000) is that there are restrictions on use (can’t build converters, can’t be a competitor to any of the apps, etc). We required a signed license agreement in hand before we’ll send them the docs. They have to tell us who they are and what their company does, as well as their intended use.

Privileged Material
Redacted

Once we get a copy of the signed agreement back, I sign for Microsoft, and we send them back a hard copy of the agreement via snail mail, and send them the docs via email

Marc

<< File Word 2000 License.doc >>

—-Original Message—-
From: Tim Davenport
Sent: Monday, May 15, 2000 5:14 PM
To: Office File Format Request
Subject: Visio file format

Hello.

MS-PCA 2545864
HIGHLY
CONFIDENTIAL


As you may know, Visio is now a Microsoft product. We recently completed the documentation of the Video file format and we want to distribute it in the same manner as the Office docs are distributed. I know that there is a page on MSDN that tells requestors to e-mail this alias and ask for the Office documentation. Do you require that they supply you with the details of what they plan to do with it? Do you make them sign any kind of agreement? Is the documentation stamped with “Microsoft Confidential”?

Thanks for any information you can provide me.

Tim Davenport (Timda)
Program Manager
VIsio

MS-PCA 2545865
HIGHLY
CONFIDENTIAL

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2 Comments

  1. Jose_X said,

    August 17, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    Gravatar

    The “docs’ are garbage whether people sign or not.

    Another Comes quote from the late 1990s I think was about how wine would be much more evolved if wine devs had access to source code and info not discernable from the docs (eg, “bugs”/misimplementations/extensions/etc in MS products).

    Samba had clearly been dealing with headaches and lack of docs by this time.

    These papers being signed might involve patent acknowledgments [?]

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Nowhere does it say what happens if a solid competitor requests those documents.

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