You may remember the Open Letter I sent to Tony Hey of Microsoft and published a few weeks back (https://unsustainableideas.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/open-letter-ms-obsolete-formats/). Well I’m please to say that Tony has responded. I’ve included the full text of his response below.
I have a reply from Jim Thatcher in the Office team:
1) We do not currently have specifications for these older file formats.
2) It is likely that those employees who had significant knowledge of these formats are no longer with Microsoft.
3) We can look into creating new licensing options including virtual machine images of older operating systems and old Office software images licensed for the sole purpose of rendering and/or converting legacy files.
4) One approach we could consider is for Microsoft to participate in a “crowd source” project working with archivists to create a public spec of these old file formats.
I think it would be sensible for you to talk directly with Jim – and Natasa in the UK – to see if there are some creative options that Microsoft could pursue with the archivist community.
Now it’s worth pointing out that this is a response from a coupe of individuals to my Open Letter, not a formal commitment by Microsoft. But it’s a good start and we need to work to make more good come from it.
The first two points are more or less as expected, and as suggested by several commenters (some picked out in my blog post of selected comments https://unsustainableideas.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/comments-on-open-letter-ms/).
The later points are very welcome, and I would be very happy to see them taken forward.
Is there any appropriate group to work with Microsoft on appropriate licence terms for older software to render or migrate legacy files?
Is there an appropriate group to coordinate crowd-sourcing interaction with Microsoft? I can see at least 4 approaches:
a) Create a set of sample files from all obsolete versions available under CC0, eg the CURATEcamp 24 hour worldwide file id hackathon (#fileidhack) public format corpus .
b) Work on a complete set of format identifying signatures, so that an unknown file can be properly identified.
c) Work as suggested on the specs of some of these older formats. Based on a quick look at an old MS Word file, some of these older formats are not that complicated.
d) Work to include these formats in Open Source Office suites, so we can migrate files into the future at no cost to Microsoft.
All of these would need a little leadership so that Microsoft didn’t get bogged down with interaction costs. Some could take place without funding and with little more than leadership (as in File Formats November or #fileidhack, for example). Some might need more resources and a bit of funding.
I think Microsoft has returned service. What next, folks?