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Judgement Against Microsoft Declares XML Editing Software To Be Worth $98? 230

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the swing-and-a-miss dept.
Many people have written to tell us about the patent infringement lawsuit that resulted in a $200 million judgement against Microsoft by a small Toronto firm called i4i. Techdirt has a line on the details of the suit where the patent in question is for "separating the manipulation of content from the architecture of the document." i4i argues that this covers basic XML editing to the tune of $98 per application. "It's quite troubling that doing something as simple as adding an XML editor should infringe on a patent, but what's even more troubling is that the court somehow ruled that such an editor was worth $98 in the copies of Microsoft Word where it was used. An XML editor. $98. And people say patent awards aren't out of sync with reality?"
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Judgement Against Microsoft Declares XML Editing Software To Be Worth $98?

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  • Microsoft Corp said on Wednesday a Texas federal jury ...

    Texas? You mean the state of Marshall, TX [overlawyered.com] where Microsoft (and everyone else who wants to win) holds all of its prosecuting patent cases? I do believe Microsoft may be getting a taste of its own medicine!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, too bad it sets a precedence that fucks us all.

      Down with "soft" patents!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bert64 (520050)

        Indeed, but if enough of these cases are used to sting microsoft, that they decide to turn against software patents, then the fight against software patents gains a powerful ally.

    • by CajunArson (465943) on Friday May 29, 2009 @05:30PM (#28144193) Journal

      Please reference one case where Microsoft was plaintiff in the Eastern District of Texas (where Marshall resides) and won some huge award... I'm not holding my breath.
      P.S. --> A plaintiff is the party that brings a case, Microsoft was the defendant in this case. Under Federal rules of civil procedure, plaintiff has a choice of forum (assuming there is personal jurisdiction and venue, but MS conducts business in all 50 states, and venue is often pretty easy to manufacture as well).

    • by xlotlu (1395639) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:23PM (#28144779)

      I do believe Microsoft may be getting a taste of its own medicine!

      You make it sound like it's a good thing...

      I haven't read the patent, but TFA makes it sound like it applies to any kind of "WYSIWYG" editing of a document that gets saved in a structured format, not only XML ("separating the manipulation of content from the architecture of the document").

      Besides the obvious implications for software like OpenOffice, this covers pretty much any type of WYSIWYG editing: spreadsheets, UML diagrams, math formulas, MS's Visio/Project outputs, the list goes on. Hell, all modern browsers support a WYSIWYG HTML editor. Do they infringe this patent?

      This is absolutely terrible. The only good thing about it is that Microsoft has the money to overturn this joke of a patent, and can get enough media coverage to point out how broken the U.S. patent system is.

      • Sounds like a patent on MVC or Doc/View architecture.

      • by digitig (1056110) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:37PM (#28144921)

        You make it sound like it's a good thing...

        I haven't read the patent, but TFA makes it sound like it applies to any kind of "WYSIWYG" editing of a document that gets saved in a structured format, not only XML ("separating the manipulation of content from the architecture of the document").

        Not just WYSIWYG. There are TeX and laTeX templates that aim to separate content from structure, and have been for a long time. There are even elements of it in roff. Just how old was that patent?

      • by CrossCompiler (69816) on Friday May 29, 2009 @07:09PM (#28145235)

        Two minor points.

        #1 The patent application is from 1994. The example in the patent looks like the same early-XML format used by Ventura, a desktop publishing program released in 1986 by Xerox (and subsequently purchased by Corel). The general idea and much of the exact format was borrowed from expensive, proprietary computerized typesetting equipment that was popular in the 70's.

        #2: The person who "examined" the patent, a Jankus; Almis R, is now a patent [patents.com] agent [uspto.gov]. I'm no longer amazed at how often bad patent applications are approved by law students, future patent attorneys and/or agents.

        • by lgw (121541)

          Was this granted in 1994? If so it's over soon.

          I keep hoping for more and more patents of obvious bullshit with prior art from the early 90s, as in a few yaers they'll all be expired and we'll be safe.

      • I haven't read the patent, but TFA makes it sound like it applies to any kind of "WYSIWYG" editing of a document that gets saved in a structured format, not only XML

        Well, you should read it. The patent is on associating properties with text without embedding the formatting codes directly. Most XML formats don't do that.

        It's about saying something like "in the text, make characters 17-21 bold face" separately from the text itself, instead of "{\bf hello}"

        • by dimeglio (456244)

          1. A computer system for the manipulation of the architecture and content of a document having a plurality of metacodes and content by producing a first map of metacodes and their addresses of use in association with mapped content; said system comprising:

          metacode map distinct storage means;
          means for providing a menu of metacodes to said metacode storage means;
          and means for compiling said metacodes of the menu by locating, detecting and addressing the metacodes in the document to constitute the map and storing the map in the metacode storage means; and
          means for resolving the content and the metacode map into the document.

          This is only 1 of 20 or so claims. Seems like that covers pretty much all XML editors I know of. Notepad doesn't provide a menu of metacodes so it's safe.

      • by dimeglio (456244)

        If the document has no metacode then the patent doesn't apply. Otherwise, there is possible infringement. Let's wait and see how it plays out during the likely appeals before taking out our cheque books. Wonder if Postcript and PDF would also be infringing. SCO all over again... oh the humanity!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rossjudson (97786)

        Since I am bored, I read it.

        "I am a <b>sentence</b>."

        The patent say, bad! Horrible! Instead, use content + "metacode map":

        "I am a sentence."

        +

        chars 0-7 : normal
        chars 7-15: bold
        chars 15-16: normal

        This is somehow supposed to be dramatically better in every way. Every frickin memory structure ever invented to edit any kind of structured text did this first and did it better.

        I'm quite surprised that anyone would ever be found in violation of this "patent", because it's a pretty stupid thing to do.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Runaway1956 (1322357)

        "You make it sound like it's a good thing..."

        Well, since you mention it, YES, it's a good thing!! What could possibly be better, than for a dozen winning suits against multi-billion dollar companies over frivolous patent suits? When the idiocy begins to hurt the idiot who are so successful at lobbying Washington and other capitals around the world, THEN we might see some sanity forced into patent law.

        Really, I want another dozen such suits brought against Microsoft quickly. Each one of them worth a billi

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bert64 (520050)

        Ofcourse there is the risk that MS will simply buy this company so that they can use the patent themselves...

    • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Friday May 29, 2009 @07:47PM (#28145559) Homepage

      Texas? You mean the state of Marshall, TX [overlawyered.com] where Microsoft (and everyone else who wants to win) holds all of its prosecuting patent cases? I do believe Microsoft may be getting a taste of its own medicine

      What do you mean by "all of its"? Do you know how many software patent cases Microsoft has been the plaintiff in before the TomTom case? Zero. (And BTW, Texas was convenient for TomTom, as that's where they have filed many of their suits against competing GPS companies).

      Oh, and defendants have been winning more than plaintiffs in the Eastern District of Texas since early 2007.

  • Aren't all the ODF documents just XML documents? How much does Open Office have to pay for each download?
    • by Jurily (900488) <jurily@NETBSDgmail.com minus bsd> on Friday May 29, 2009 @05:20PM (#28144085)

      Aren't all the ODF documents just XML documents?

      No, they're compressed XML documents.

      How much does Open Office have to pay for each download?

      If this ruling stands for them too, still nothing. They just won't let you download in the US. Free Software has no jurisdiction.

      • by mea37 (1201159) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:01PM (#28144531)

        Right. And any Open Office developers who happen to live in the U.S. - whose coding would be subject to U.S. patents - would do what exactly to avoid their liability for infringing the patent? And even if we pretend (as TFS seems to imply, incorrectly) that patent damages somehow have to be tied to a count of distributed copies, and that OO could cut off U.S. distribution, how would the cover the damages for copies already distributed in the U.S.?

        If the patent applies to what OO is doing, it would be a big problem for the project.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by RulerOf (975607)
          And then torrenting OpenOffice inside of the US would be illegal for an entirely different reason than 99% of all the other torrent traffic out on the inter-tubes.

          Neat.

          Not good, just neat.
        • I would suspect that many people would start using Tor once again demonstrating to the governments that people are still more then capable of hiding their identities online when given sufficent cause too.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Jurily (900488)

          And any Open Office developers who happen to live in the U.S. - whose coding would be subject to U.S. patents - would do what exactly to avoid their liability for infringing the patent?

          Stop contributing. Where is it written, that OOo has to have contributors from the US? There will be others. And I'm sure the courts would appreciate the fact that they stopped upon finding out about the infringement.

          Also, the fact that they sued the richest software company in the world does not imply they'll go after individuals.

          • Also, the fact that they sued the richest software company in the world does not imply they'll go after individuals.

            They might go after Sun. Of course, if it made it into the courtroom it would be thrown out immediately (Sun doesn't develop OOo, it just sponsors it) (IANAL), but these are patent trolls. They'll think of anything. Remember SCO? These guys are worse.

            • by Jurily (900488)

              Remember SCO? These guys are worse.

              Even SCO went after IBM, not J. Random Developer.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by edittard (805475)

                As any lawyer will tell you, don't go after the guilty - go after the ones with the deepest pockets.

    • by msobkow (48369) on Friday May 29, 2009 @05:25PM (#28144155) Homepage Journal

      If it's an issue of editing XML documents in the sense of using XML to store structured data (such as Ooo documents), then the patent should be overturned. The whole point of XML is to provide a generic (and thereby obvious) means of structuring and editing data.

      • by Jurily (900488)

        The whole point of XML is to provide a generic (and thereby obvious) means of structuring and editing data.

        Not to mention ODF is an international standard, so any US patent should in my opinion be null and void. Of course that's common sense, so likely not true.

        • by mea37 (1201159)

          It may be common sense, if the standard were there first (i.e. before the patent). If the patent were there first, why would it be common sense that an international standards body would be allowed to say "Hey, that's a good idea; we'll just invalidate your patent by incorporating it into a standard!"?

          And indeed, if the standard came first, then any later-filed patent covering the idea could not be novel and non-obvious, so the law would behave in what I consider a common-sense fashion.

          • by wellingj (1030460)
            I would generally agree with you on this point concerning any other kind of patent except for software...
          • by Jurily (900488)

            If the patent were there first, why would it be common sense that an international standards body would be allowed to say "Hey, that's a good idea; we'll just invalidate your patent by incorporating it into a standard!"?

            Doesn't the ISO have policies for patents they know about? And if they didn't, it's hard to argue about the originality of a patent that made it into a standard.

      • by mea37 (1201159)

        Whether the patent would be valid might well depend on when it was filed. The mechanisms for editing XML are obvious if the XML spec is taken as background, but if the patent was in force when the XML spec was created and if those methods were covered by the patent, then XML would violate the patent (not the other way around).

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Before we had XML, there was a more elaborate ML called "SGML" (HTML 1-4 are simplified versions of SGML. SGML was standardised in 1986, was there prior art involving similar techniques around XML?
          --
          AC

  • ... but what's even more troubling is that the court somehow ruled that such an editor was worth $98 in the copies of Microsoft Word where it was used. An XML editor. $98. And people say patent awards aren't out of sync with reality?

    Well--and I stress that I am not defending this ruling--you could look at it like raising the stakes involved since there are so many patent cases.

    Example: You steal a piece of fruit. You are convicted in front of a jury and slapped on the wrist. So you and everyone else does it again tomorrow. To combat this they increase the penalty to a $70 fine and 4 days in jail. In an ideal world, people stop stealing fruit.

    Of course, I'm told hands get chopped off for stealing in some countries (could be wrong on that one though). I do know in Texas they're not opposed to electrocutin' ya for certain offenses though ... maybe they are just on their way to try to get all these patent cases prevented?

    Doesn't make a lick of sense at all considering you can't throw a goddamn progress bar [edn.com] on your application without risking litigation.

  • Filed in 1994 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <.elmuerte. .at. .drunksnipers.com.> on Friday May 29, 2009 @05:23PM (#28144119) Homepage

    Granted in 1998.

    It took them that long to sue MS?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by moogsynth (1264404)
      Who knows why they took so long. Still, the patent will expire in a couple of years, so if they want to milk people for cash they have to do it now. Anyone who creates similar software is going to have to watch out for the next couple of years.

      Anyhow, the patent is regarding "separating the manipulation of content from the architecture of the document." That's so hopelessly vague it's not even a joke. That's a patent that will affect every document format known to man. How on earth can this patent be a n
      • Still, the patent will expire in a couple of years

        2015 (or 2018) is *FOREVER* in "internet time".

      • Re:Filed in 1994 (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:56PM (#28145119)

        Anyhow, the patent is regarding "separating the manipulation of content from the architecture of the document." That's so hopelessly vague it's not even a joke.

        The patent claims (which define the scope of the patent) are easier to read after going through the specification a bit more closely. This patent is about a particular method of encoding structured data.

        Consider the example (given in the patent) of <Chapter><Title>The Secret Life of Data</Title><Para>Data is hostile. </Para>The End</Chapter>. Typical parsers would encode this as some kind of tree.

        This patent teaches coding it by creating a "Metacode Map" with six elements encoded as {Element Number, Element, Character Position}: ({1, <Chapter&gt, 0}, {2, <Title>, 0}, {3, </Title>, 23}, {4, <Para>, 23}, {5, </Para>, 23}, {6, </Chapter>, 46}). The content is then stored separately as one long strong: "The Secret Life ofDataData is hostile. The End"

        I haven't read the claims closely enough to say whether they are consistent with the teachings of the patent, but it does seem to be narrower than simply editing XML (or SGML). I also suspect that there aren't a whole lot of infringers since this is an unusual way encoding marked up language. Does Word do this? The jury though so, but the code is all under seal, so it is a bit difficult to check out independently.

    • Re:Filed in 1994 (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:31PM (#28144851)
      If you were to decide to consider allowing your eyes to accept light emitted from your screen after having navigated to a site where details of the case were located and then allowed your sensory equipment to interpret the light patterns in accordance to the conventions of the English language, you might find that i4i demonstrated its technology to Microsoft in 2001 with the hopes of licensing it for use in Microsoft Word. Microsoft declined, but with office 2003, they offered the same capabilities as that which i4i tried to license them. The case was filed in 2007, so it took them like 3-4 years to sue. There were also some emails they found that microsoft was discussing i4i and their patent prior to adding the office 2003 functionality.

      So Basically the company was able to present evidence that Microsoft intentionally reviewed, and then disregarded the patent and implemented the same feature as the patent holder tried to sell them. That probably didn't sit very well with the jury. Microsoft should have been a good citizen and tried to strike down the ridiculous patent, rather than just ignore it and hope for the best.
      • So Basically the company was able to present evidence that Microsoft intentionally reviewed, and then disregarded the patent and implemented the same feature as the patent holder tried to sell them. That probably didn't sit very well with the jury. Microsoft should have been a good citizen and tried to strike down the ridiculous patent, rather than just ignore it and hope for the best.

        That's a very good point, but what's so wrong about copying the idea? Is the idea THAT good that it needs to be patented and protected as such?

        It's not like this particular idea is doing any good for us all... so why grant the patent?

  • by Fantom42 (174630) on Friday May 29, 2009 @05:24PM (#28144139)

    http://www.google.com/patents?id=y8UkAAAAEBAJ&dq=5787449 [google.com]

    I have no idea what this patent is saying.

    Abstract:

    A system and method for the separate manipulation of the architecture and content of a document, particularly for data representation and transformations. The system, for use by computer software developers, removes dependency on document encoding technology. A map of metacodes found in the document is produced and provided and stored separately from the document. The map indicates the location and addresses of metacodes in the document. The system allows of multiple views of the same content, the ability to work solely on structure and solely on content, storage efficiency of multiple versions and efficiency of operation.

    It sounds a bit like an embedded XSLT, more or less. Maybe?

    • by oneiros27 (46144)

      Just from reading the abstract, it sounds more like templating -- I know the basic structure of your format, so I can go in and replace the strings (content) between the parts that are structural. Or, to modify the template, I could hide the content, and allow you to modify just the structural part ... and I could present it in any number of ways to allow you to edit it.

      XSLT is more one-directional, and there isn't the mapping made to relate how things go back into the original file.

      • Perhaps there is a bit of something MVC-like? The "content" is a model/data structure, even "view" is explicitly mentioned. Hell, it can mean a million different things...it's a patent, after all. :)
    • by Zarhan (415465) on Friday May 29, 2009 @05:37PM (#28144275)

      When reading patents, you always ignore most of the boilerplate and preamble. Just go for the Claims section.

      In this case, Claim 1 is quite understandable:

      1. A computer system for the manipulation of the architecture and content of a document having a plurality of metacodes and content by producing a first map of metacodes and their addresses of use in association with mapped content; said system comprising:

              metacode map distinct storage means;
              means for providing a menu of metacodes to said metacode storage means;
              and means for compiling said metacodes of the menu by locating, detecting and addressing the metacodes in the document to constitute the map and storing the map in the metacode storage means; and
              means for resolving the content and the metacode map into the document.

      • by happyemoticon (543015) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:26PM (#28144805) Homepage
        The USPTO should start denying patent applications that contain this kind of deliberately obfuscative gobbledegook. This is like describing cup of coffee as a "insulating ceramic material vessel for the transportation of central nervous system-stimulant-laden liquids of temperatures approaching gradual evaporation adapted to both manipulation and imbibation for the purposes of maximum early-hours alertness and/or circadian rhythm modulation." It's like reading Foucault.
        • The USPTO should start denying patent applications that contain this kind of deliberately obfuscative gobbledegook. This is like describing cup of coffee as a "insulating ceramic material vessel for the transportation of central nervous system-stimulant-laden liquids of temperatures approaching gradual evaporation adapted to both manipulation and imbibation for the purposes of maximum early-hours alertness and/or circadian rhythm modulation." It's like reading Foucault.

          You sir, have made me laugh.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by StormReaver (59959)

          As a sad commentary on the state of the patent system, your convoluted description of coffee was easier to follow than most patent applications.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by xlotlu (1395639)

        Sounds like any type of stylesheet-based editing.

        That means office suites, HTML editors, vector graphics editors are all "infringing".

      • by PitaBred (632671)
        Ok. So you read the claim... it seems exactly like what someone "skilled in the arts" would do when presented with a document having a plurality of metacodes. There's nothing "novel" about what they're doing.
      • by radtea (464814)

        In this case, Claim 1 is quite understandable:

        Why isn't this modded funny?

        I've spent a stupid amount of time reading patents, and this is one of the worst I've ever seen. The third item in the list isn't even coherent, as it suddenly starts talking about storing some map in a "metacode storage means" which is hitherto undefined.

        I defy anyone to show me a class diagram and pseudo-code that unambiguously instantiates this claim.

    • by iamhigh (1252742)
      Or a database... or about anything else where you can structure data, work on the structure or work on the data.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by capt.Hij (318203)
      From that vague wording it seems that using the XML::RPC module in Perl would violate the patent. You can use that module to separate your manipulation of the xml and the data that is represented in the xml. Then again, it seems to me that this is exactly what word processors have been doing since wordstar. The editor allows you to focus on the contents while the program manipulates the file under the hood. The fact that it uses XML is not really relevant.
  • maybe they were after RIAA sized multiples of damages
  • Only if you trying to program an XML parser without using an existing library. Creating the XML file is easy. Reading the damn thing back in is hard. Something I found out during one of my programming classes.
  • I don't even have to read the article to know that this must be in East Texas. Anyone ever realize that maybe Texas should succeed? Not only would it whip Washington D.C. into line faster and more completely than anything else, but it would end Marshall Texas as the patent infringement destination resort of choice.
  • Saves you $100 in a blink of an eye :)

    • Indeed. I was about to post how plenty of people out there use Notepad, TextEdit, nano, vi, and plenty of other text editors and word processors to write XML.

      May as well fine Smith Corona, since a typewriter from 1970 can also edit XML with the appropriate white out fluid.
  • $98 is too much even for Word itself! besides, how great is XML editing in Word 2007? on version 2003 it just looks like a lame-ass text editor. however, if the lawsuit referred to Microsoft's free XML Notepad 2006, i would understand the reason for *some* of the ado. it's a great utility. butit it isnt worth more than $20 either.
    • "$98 is too much even for Word itself! "

      Why? How much did you pay for it?
      Suggested retail price is $229. [microsoft.com]

      • by Shados (741919)

        150$ for 3 licenses for personal use [microsoft.com]

        Less than that at work for the full thing, thanks to volume licensing, including a free copy for home use there too via the professional home usage program that microsoft offers. Oh, and another "free" (to some extent) license of all Office client products from the MSDN subscription.

        • Ahh.
          So $98 *IS too much for Word

          • by Shados (741919)

            Big fat enterprise software aside(like the server versions of windows, sql server, Dynamics, etc) when purchased as single licenses, very few products of Microsoft end up being that expensive when bought correctly.

            There's always a way. MSDN Subscriptions can be obtained as low as 30% retail price if bought through the proper (legal!!) channels, Exchange licenses can drop to almost free when in bulk, Office can be obtained for near free as I described, etc etc etc.

            There's always a (legal!) way with MS produc

  • by noidentity (188756) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:03PM (#28144557)

    And people say patent awards aren't out of sync with reality?

    Are you aware of how much genius it takes to come up with the idea of first parsing the XML file into an internal in-memory format, editing that, then flattening that back to an XML file? Nobody would have done anything different than re-parsing and modifying the XML every time a minor change was made in the editor, if it weren't for this insightful patent.

  • Ridiculous. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cdn-programmer (468978) <terr@terr a l o g i c .net> on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:26PM (#28144809)

    This is just ridiculous.

    The patent would apply to any markup language. This is totally obvious and there are many implementations which have been around for more than 25 years.

    There are several errors here.

    1) the patent should not have been granted because to do something like this is obvious.

    2) the court must be totally incompetent.

    3) the defense must be incompetent as well.

    Any database driven web page is an infringement. It doesn't need to be XML. In fact most databases have this and Oracle is an example. PostgreSQL also has tools which do this.

    Any templating software does this.

    This illustrates just how bad the USA patent system is.

    I hope it goes to appeal and that this gets straightened out. The thing is we software developers are under attack these days We will find that the 3rd world will eventually do all our software development. I know I would not go into software development if I were back in my university days. If a person does anything of any significance they can expect to be sued. No other profession that I know of is attacked as we software developers are being attacked.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by stikves (127823)

      Defense does not necessarily need to be incompetent. As long as the accuser can demonstrate that the patent applies, defense has no choice, until the patent used itself is invalidated, which is not easy. (Remember that one-click shopping patent of Amazon).

      I've only seen one recent case of Microsoft using patents against competition (FAT vs TomTom). However, every year they have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to unknown companies. Especially the Eolas case was ridiculous, and those money, unfortunate

  • ...If you consider some poor sucker is paying $655.52 [pcconnection.com] for the whole office package. I'd rather pay $98 for an xml editor than $557.52 for MS Office sans editor. Not that the xml editor is that important but I'd rather throw away $98 than throw away ~$600.

    Perhaps this is a little poetic justice for MS's fleecing of their own customers.
  • Great name for a patent troll company suing Microsoft.

  • What the patent is about is associating formatting information with text by means other than embedding it. For example, instead of "<b>foo</b>" you separately store the instructions "foo" and "make 0-3 bold"; it calls this "content" and "meta-codes". It's a bad idea, most software doesn't do it, and there should really be plenty of prior art before 1994.

    I believe the reason Microsoft steps on this patent is because of their XML format, which uses such nonsense. I don't see how
  • Is that it puts me in the uncomfortable and rare position of beeing on Micro$ofts side.

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