Let me introduce in a few words the company I'm currently working for: Clever Age (who said Microsoft ? ;-). It is a french IT consulting company that was created by Frederic Bon in 2001 with two other associates. Coming from big consulting companies, they felt like they had lost their independence (due to political decisions, financial pressure, editors partnerships or whatever) and wanted to regain it. But they soon realised that they had to look further into the products and "put their hands inside" (as we would say in french) if they wanted to give valuable advices to their clients. That's why an "integration" department was opened in 2002, focusing on PHP, Java and .NET technologies. Since then, Clever Age has grown up slowly (but safely), starting to become quite well-known (at least in France) in several technical areas, among them portal and CMS or XML and Web Services. In 2004, our first subsidiary was opened by Maciek Borowka in Gdansk (Poland), followed by three new ones in 2005 and 2006: Lyon (France), Bordeaux (France) and Katowice (Poland). Today, we are around 60 employees working for Clever Age (40 in France and 20 in Poland).

So as you can see, we are not a "big" company, and you may wonder why we were chosen by Microsoft to run this project. To understand that, let's go back in January 2005. At this time, people from Microsoft France were questionned by people working in French ministries about the compatibility of Microsoft Office with emerging standards (OpenDocument was not yet in a final stage if I remember well, but there were discussions about making it the default format for official exchanges). The answer from Microsoft guys at this time was quite simple: we published the specifications of the XML format used in Word 2003 (known as WordML), so feel free to write converters. And to prove it, they asked a small company (Clever Age) to build a Proof of Concept that would demonstrate the feasability of such a project. That led to the first converter (that allowed to open OpenOffice.org 1.0 SXW files in Word 2003), released on SourceForge in september 2005. At this time, we expected French ministries to be interested by the project and to put some resources on the table to make it go further. But if they actually were enthousiastic about the idea, no one wanted to pay for it.

Just to give an idea of the context (only one year back from now!), when Eric Le Marois (responsible for relations with public institutions in MS France, and thus much concerned by questions of interoperability) raised his hand at the Office conference (or something like this) that took place in Seatle in september 2005 to ask for any plan to make Office 12 be compatible with OpenDocument, everybody looked at him, wondering what he was speaking of (he told me this story, Eric please correct me if necessary). So at this time, this sounded like a french-only preoccupation (actually, I'm pretty sure there were also some deep thoughts about it in MS Corp., but it was kept very secret).

So now you might better understand why we were chosen to develop the plug-in: when at Microsoft they started to think about doing something with OpenDocument (under the pressure of an increasing number of public institutions, among them... french ministries, but not only), the guys from MS France told Corp. about this little prototype that had been developed one year earlier by Clever Age - and that was quite promising. After some discussions, we found an agreement that would allow Clever Age to develop a new converter, based this time on OpenDocument and OpenXML, under a BSD-like license.

Why the hell choose a BSD-like license? There are plenty of other licenses (GPL, LGPL, Mozilla, ...) that are far more accepted by the Open Source community, so if our goal in making this project Open Source was to gain contributors, that was not the best choice. In fact, again we must go back to the context. When Microsoft asked us to develop the converter, Office 12 (now known as Office 2007) was not even released in Beta 2. And they did not really know what they would finally do with our converter. I think it is useful to precise that we were mandated not by the Office development team, but by Microsoft Interoperablility Department (headed by Jean Paoli). So the integration of the plug-in into the final version of Office was not very clear. For this reason, Microsoft wanted to keep the possibility to take the code and... simply put it in their product, without any legal restriction. And for this purpose, the BSD license sounded like the best choice, because anyone (meaning: not only Microsoft) is allowed to do whatever he likes with the code.

Now that the integration as a downloadable plug-in has been decided (but it can still change, who knows?), we know that we could have chosen another license, such as GPL or LGPL. A lot of Open Source contributors don't like the BSD licence because it allows to take their work to build closed-source, commercial products - and that's not in the "Open Source spirit". But I think in this case there was no alternative: Microsoft wanted to be able to take the code, possibly modify it, and integrate it into Office 2007. They could have chosen a Mozilla-like license: it is similar to GPL (or LGPL?) but the fact that one company (or one organization) keeps the right to build a commercial, closed-source product based on the source code (including external contributions). For external contributors, do you really think it would have changed anything if Microsoft had published the project (uh, sorry: if Clever Age had published the project, with Microsoft agreement) under a GPL licence with this kind of restriction allowing them to take all external contributions? I really don't think so. And that's why I still think the BSD license was a good choice.

Sorry, I chattered a lot again this time, and there is almost no place left for the "other thoughts" I announced in the title... I just wanted to say that we are working very very hard this days to fix bugs in order to publish the M2 release at the end of the week! Sometimes we run into such difficulties with our XSL transformations (I am thinking especially of subtable - arghhh - and automatic styles - arghhh again - that will possibly require post-processings to be handled in an acceptable way) that we wonder if our technical choices were so good... I will try to find time to explain those problematics for those who want to really know what kind of technical issues this project is facing (no, there are not only political issues ;-).