Microsoft Extends and Clarifies the OSP

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 25, 2008

Microsoft's Open Specification Promise (OSP) has been somewhat controversial, which is probably not what the company intended. The OSP is basically a "we won't sue you" promise to developers who implement software based on any of a variety of Microsoft specifications. Due to longstanding distrust or specific legal issues, some open source developers have viewed the OSP as a threat rather than a promise. As OSCON today, Microsoft tried to lay some of those fears to rest, and also extended the reach of the OSP.

Specifically, Microsoft has made it clear (in part through this posting from Associate General Counsel Richard Wilder) that a software product doesn't have to implement an entire specification perfectly to fall under the OSP. That's welcome news to developers who were worried that a bug or missing feature could result in them inadvertently being subject to legal action.

Microsoft has also continued putting new protocols under the OSP. It now covers over 120 protocols, perhaps most significantly including both the Open Office XML (OOXML) and older Office binary file protocols - the latter having been requested specifically by the Apache POI project.

Will the latest set of clarifications silence the critics of the OSP? Not likely. As we reported in March, the Software Freedom Law Center has specific concerns with the OSP and its compatibility with the GPL. Although Microsoft's FAQ on the OSP specifically assures developers using the GPL for their software that the OSP applies to them ("Absolutely, yes") they also state "Because the General Public License (GPL) is not universally interpreted the same way by everyone, we can’t give anyone a legal opinion about how our language relates to the GPL or other OSS licenses..."