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Word and the legal dispute i4i against Microsoft

While visiting my favourite blogs, I discovered the very interesting article „What is “Custom XML?” … and the impact of the i4i judgment on Word“ from Gray Knowlton published on 23. December 2009. One day before, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the trial court verdict rendered in favor of plaintiff i4i Limited Partnership and also upheld the permanent injunction issued against Microsoft barring future sales of Microsoft Word products containing the Custom XML features.

Microsoft Word

You can see the affected features of Word in question if you insert custom XML tags to your documents. They are made visible in the document by being highlighted in pink as shown in the screenshot above. The judgement will now have some impacts on these features in future versions of Word.

Gray Knowlton reported in his article, that existing installations and current users of Word are not affected. And, Word Versions containing the Custom XML features distributed before 01/11/2010 will be able to read documents containing custom XML tags. However, Word 2007 versions which will be distributed after 1/10/2010 will no longer read custom XML tags in files based on the new file format (docx, docm or xml files).

Additionally, you can find some very useful tips in the article of Gray Knowlton, how to check your documents if they contain the affected features and what you can do to port these documents to other technologies. The simplest way to check your documents is to install the Beta of Office 2010 and open the documents there. If they work fine, don’t worry. If they don’t work, you may consider to reimplement you features by using content controls.

From other sources (links at the end of the article), it seems that only versions of Word will be affected, which are sold in the U.S. If I’m right, this means from my opinion that nothing will change for example for german customers. However my last statement should be relativized, what will happen, if people will work with documents on an international level or in mixed environments?

So far, I had little experience concerning Word and the XML features. So I had to search the net for How-To’s, tutorials and experiment with some sample files. The opportunities arising through the use of XML in Word are really enormous. For example, these features may be helpful for professional publishers or when processing data in conjunction with servers or other applications. Very interesting, depending on my time I will familiarize myself more into this subject and, maybe, write another article about it.

Ok, back to my question. What will happen, if I will send a document containing custom XML tags with an american customer who has installed the „new“ version of Word 2007? And how would it be if he sends me the document back? Well, since Office 2010 apparently does not contain the controversial features, I think this product may be ideal for testing.

In a first step, I created an abreviated and modified own XML Scheme based on my scheme which I’m using for my own VBA Applications to store my string and other ressources. The following figure shows an excerpt of the schema, however please don’t think about the appropriateness of the definitions I have made in this sample.

Microsoft Word

Then, I created a new Word 2007 document and I assigned the XML Schema to the document. Please note, that the developer tab on the ribbon must be visible for adding the schema using the „Schema“ button. You may then click on „Add Schema“ to select a file.

Microsoft Word

For showing the available tags, you may click on „Structure“ to show or hide the XML Structure panel on the right side of the Word Application window. When inserting tags to your document, this panel displays the allowed tags on the bottom right, according to the definitions in the schema.

Microsoft Word

Let’s have a look to the internal file structure of the Word 2007 document. For doing this, I have first renamed my file from „2007.docx“ to „2007.zip“, then unpacked it to a folder and opened the XML file „document.xml“, located in the „word“ subdirectory. The following figure shows a screenshot of my text editor.

Microsoft Word

Very nice, I can see the sections containing my custom tags. Now, what will happen, if I open the document in Word 2010? Well, as expected the tags are removed.

Microsoft Word

Additionally, the tags on the upper right in the XML Structure panel have been removed. Then I saved my document in Word 2010. Unfortunately, I was not warned about the changes, because when reopening my document in Word 2007 again, the tags have also been removed there, as shown in the following figure (please note, the question mark was manually added to picture).

Microsoft Word

I don’t know if this behaviour is expected or if it is a bug. In my opinion, this behaviour may lead to some confusion for some users. I’m thinking about people who receive a document, don’t know about the use of custom XML tags, change something, save and resend this document back to the original author. Let’s have a look what happened to the internal structure of the document.

Microsoft Word

As you can see in the picture above, all custom tags have been removed, I also did not find them in another parts of the document. The last test I performed was to try out the custom XML features in Word 2010 from a users point of view. The same features like in Word 2007 are also available in the user interface of Word 2010.

Microsoft Word

After inserting my custom XML, I can see the structure in my document. However, if I close the document and reopen it again, all tags has been removed. I think, perhaps a warning should also be great.

Microsoft Word

Ok, at this point I must clearly say, Office 2010 is still a beta version. So nobody can expect, that all is working fine and all bugs have been corrected (if so). And please consider, I don’t know if my system environment (Windows Server DE, Office 2007 and Office 2010 in multiple languages) has an impact on the features of the applications.

My personal conclusion would be to follow the advices from Gray Knowlton and use the content controls instead of Custom XML, especially since these features are not in dispute. I will also write about the content controls an article in the future. Finally, some interesting links.

This article has also been published in German and in English on the following sites:



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