Improving my vision: Some views on Microsoft’s Open Specification Promise

Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary, defined a cynic as follows:

A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision.

Many years later, Albert Einstein defined common sense as “the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen”.

As I grow older, I realise that however hard I try to keep an open mind, and to learn, I land up with anchors and frames and perspective-biases that I don’t always know I have. Which means that sometimes I have to work hard to ensure that I don’t lapse insidiously into cynicism.

So you can understand why I had to work very hard indeed when analysing the Microsoft Open Specification Promise that was published yesterday. If you’re interested in the subject, then please do check out Kim Cameron’s blog here,  Doc’s piece at IT Garage (where he asks for your opinion as well) and Phil Windley’s blog here, along with Becker and Norlin’s Digital ID World blog at ZDNet.

Microsoft are not known for their pioneering approaches in the opensource world. Identity is one of the three big issues that affects our ability to deliver the promise of today’s technology (the other two are Intellectual Property/Digital Rights and the “internet”, with or without Stevens’ Tubes). A valid solution for identity pretty much needs Microsoft’s support and that of its legions of lawyers.
And so we come to the Open Specification Promise. My early reactions? I think Kim Cameron and his team have done a brilliant job at pulling this off and getting something workable past the lawyers’ cynosure.

If you want to understand it, and don’t particularly feel like wading through “implication, exhaustion, estoppel or otherwise” (and who could blame you?), then skip the legalese and go straight to the Frequently Asked Questions section. I quote from the FAQs:

  • The Open Specification Promise is a simple and clear way to assure that the broadest audience of developers and customers working with commercial or open source software can implement specifications through a simplified method of sharing of technical assets, while recognizing the legitimacy of intellectual property.
  • We listened to feedback from community representatives who made positive comments regarding the acceptability of this approach.
  • Q: Why did Microsoft take this approach?
  • A: It was a simple, clear way, after looking at many different licensing approaches, to reassure a broad audience of developers and customers that the specification(s) could be used for free, easily, now and forever.
  • Q: How does the Open Specification Promise work? Do I have to do anything in order to get the benefit of this OSP?
  • A: No one needs to sign anything or even reference anything. Anyone is free to implement the specification(s), as they wish and do not need to make any mention of or reference to Microsoft. Anyone can use or implement these specification(s) with their technology, code, solution, etc. You must agree to the terms in order to benefit from the promise; however, you do not need to sign a license agreement, or otherwise communicate your agreement to Microsoft.
  • Q: What is covered and what is not covered by the Open Specification Promise?
  • A: The OSP covers each individual specification designated on the public list posted at The OSP applies to anyone who is building software and or hardware to implement one or more of those specification(s). You can choose to implement all or part of the specification(s). The OSP does not apply to any work that you do beyond the scope of the covered specification(s).

We have a long way to go before we can solve all this. We’re not going to solve all this unless we stop acting like cynics. So let’s get behind Kim Cameron on this and see what happens. That’s what I’m going to do.
An aside: Why can’t legal agreements be written like FAQ sections? Is there a law against it? 

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