foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world


Microsoft's big openness pledge

, posted: 23-Feb-2008 07:47

Yesterday, Microsoft announced a big pledge towards openness. In essence, it is the promise to freely provide extensive API documentation for their protocols and applications. It should be pointed out that Microsoft is not open-sourcing anything, as some commentators seem to think. Instead, it is merely talking about publishing API and protocol specifications. Those of course are probably more important for interoperability than open source, actually. This, of course, makes it easier for competitors to create software that works with and within the Microsoft eco-system. In a nod to open source development, this pledge also contains a promise not to sue open source developers who make use of this new information in their software.

So, sounds like a good deal, right?

Well, not so fast. First of all, at the bottom of the page we find the true reason why Microsoft is releasing this information now:
The interoperability principles and actions announced today reflect the changed legal landscape for Microsoft and the IT industry. They are an important step forward for the company in its ongoing efforts to fulfill the responsibilities and obligations outlined in the September 2007 judgment of the European Court of First Instance (CFI).
Right. So, they didn't really do this out of the goodness of their hearts, or because they have suddenly seen the light. They felt compelled to do something to avert even tougher legal penalties (even though the EU doesn't appear to be too impressed by this all) . And, as some commentors have pointed out, there is also the upcoming OOXML decision. Appearing to play nice could be helpful there.

While access to this new information is certainly helpful for anyone trying to interoperate with Microsoft products, there are a few carefully crafted gotchas in the pledge. Firstly, the proomise not to sue is only extended to new developments based on this now released information. Already existing open source software (especially the infamous 200+ patents that Linux supposedly is violating, but which Microsoft is not disclosing) are not affected by this at all. No promise not to sue there.

Secondly, while open source developers are free to use this information, anyone trying to commercially sell the software that is thus generated will still have to pay IP license fees to Microsoft. So, as someone pointed out, this is essentially a way for Microsoft to open a channel for IP sales. After all, open source software spreads, is bundled in commercial offerings and suddenly ... oops! ... there you have it: Microsoft IP contaminated open source, not suitable for bundling or commercial distribution. It throws a nice wrench into open source software in general. Here is some more analysis of the impact on open source. One of the best summaries of the announcement (with point by point translation of official Microsoft-speak to its 'true' meaning) is in this article here. The best quote:
Microsoft wants to make it easier for you to do what they have always wanted you to do:  totally embrace their technologies and quit wasting so much time making them chase you outside their sphere of competence. ... They’re not doing anyone any favors.  Most importantly, they still have the mindset that the only ones going to make money from the Microsoft ecosphere are Microsoft.
So, yeah. There is some good news in the announcement if you want to write interoperable software, but I don't think this heralds the beginning of a new age, as some like to see it. Microsoft was more or less forced to take steps like this by legal rulings. And even so, they managed to attach a lot of strings to it which in the end mostly just benefit them and their continued strategy of complete market dominance...

Other related posts:
PC World: Move your business to Linux, not Vista
And you thought your computer would do what YOU wanted...
The great 'Windows collapse' of 2011?








Comment by barf, on 23-Feb-2008 09:24

"openness" is certainly not the auspice they should be releasing API documentation under. developer documentation is standard fare - my bloody licence fees should entitle me to documentation!

I'd say MS are losing their grip on the developer and PC hobbyist community now too. can't sneeze at things like AD, they should push what they're good at, touting Microsoft as "open" is backing a losing horse.


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New Zealand


  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
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