What the hell does Microsoft litigation with some Canadian company have to do with my writing tools?

I’m sure I was wearing headphones with the sound going directly into my ears while Paul Thurrott in some episode of Windows Weekly mentioned in passing that “Microsoft complies with court, strips Word of custom XML.” It was a jury in Texas that decided that my digital life should be intimately disrupted as “Microsoft has issued updates for Word 2007 and Word 2003 that strip those applications of a feature that infringes on the patent of a tiny Canadian software company, i4i.” And I’m flippantly sure that Paul Thurrott said that this change will have an “insignificant” impact on whatever he continually says “whatever” about… so, speaking of bad comedy, here’s a picture from a previous post showing just how much I’m into “custom XML”:

One important finding of mine disagrees with the use of the word “strip” in sentences like:

So what do you do if you have custom XML in your Word documents? If you don’t use the custom XML, then there’s no problem, just open the files and Word will strip it out, leaving you the rest of the document. Same if your use can be switched to using another feature. You will lose your existing markers but otherwise can continue.

What’s actually happening (according to my copy of Word 2010) is that word is not altering the contents of my documents simply because it contains “custom XML.” This apparently “illegal” content is not displayed in Word 2010. The XML defining the “custom XML” is still stored in the document.

What this suggests (after many hours curled up on the floor sobbing, Why me!) is that the Open XML SDK can be used to reach those fragments of “custom XML”—once there one could:

  • Brutally copy the contents of the document (with a VSTO add-in) and paste it back into Word. This might coerce the “custom XML” tags to show again because (according to my copy of Word 2010) the commands and tools related to “custom XML” work as expected—you simply can’t display your work in a future editing session.
  • Stop using “custom XML” and use the Content Control instead. In “What is ‘Custom XML?’ … and the impact of the i4i judgment on Word,” this suggestion is made. The first subtle problem here is that Content Control visuals don’t appear in draft mode—which is my favorite mode to work in Word.
  • Assume that Microsoft will not let some judge in Texas and some company in Canada stop them from “innovating” with Word. It may take them years but they’ll come out with some kind of “embrace and extend” trick.

In the summer of 2009, Mary Jo Foley reported that Microsoft appealed the decision. Since I’m writing this very, very late to the party, clearly the appeal failed. In fact, in the winter of 2009 we find Tim Bray saying:

I see that Microsoft lost an appeal in the “Custom XML” litigation, and may be forced to disable that functionality in Microsoft Office. This is a short backgrounder explaining what “Custom XML” is about, and why nobody should care.

Hey, let’s drive this issue into the ground (deeper) with Stéphane Rodriguez (in 2008):

It’s interesting that Microsoft bloggers don’t even seem to be [embarrassed] by ridiculous expressions such as “Custom XML”. Custom XML is indeed just as silly as “Office Open XML” : the reason is X in XML already means Custom.