Microsoft to publish APIs and list patents

The software giant has released details of how it will comply with a 2004 EU antitrust decision, which includes a promise not to sue non-commercial implementations of its products

Microsoft has released details of how it will comply with the 2004 EU antitrust decision, including publishing "all" details of application-programming interfaces for its high-volume products, listing its software patents that cover interoperability, and promising not to sue non-commercial implementations of its products.

In an announcement on Thursday afternoon, Microsoft said it would make broad-reaching changes to its technology and business practices. Affected product lines include Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007 and Office SharePoint Server 2007.

Microsoft made a number of commitments. For example, the company said it will publish documentation for all APIs for these products on its website. "Open access to this documentation will ensure that third-party developers can connect to Microsoft's high-volume products just as Microsoft's other products do," said the company.

However, although the company said developers will not need to take a licence or pay a royalty or other fees to access this information, those covered by patents will still be subject to a royalty from developers who want to use them. Microsoft said these royalty rates would be "reasonable and non-discriminatory". In practice this is likely to restrict their use by software developers who don't charge for their software, such as open-source developers.

Another move likely to be welcomed by developers is the commitment to list the patents that Microsoft claims covers each protocol — something software developers have been demanding for some time.

Microsoft's covenant not to sue open-source developers is restricted to those who create non-commercial software implementations of the protocols. The announcement did not define what Microsoft means by non-commercial distributions, and still leaves open the possibility of suing commercial distributions of implementations of these protocols, which could cover open source in some cases.

The software maker also said it will work more closely with other major implementers of standards in its high-volume server products, and "document for the development community how it supports such standards, including those Microsoft extensions that affect interoperability with other implementations of these standards".

As an immediate step, Microsoft said it will publish over 30,000 pages on MSDN of documentation for Windows client and server protocols that were previously available only under a trade-secret licence through the Microsoft Work Group Server Protocol Program (WSPP) and the Microsoft Communication Protocol Program (MCPP).

Protocol documentation for additional products, such as Office 2007 and all the other high-volume products covered by these principles, will be published in the forthcoming months, said the company.

One commitment apparently not demanded by the EU ruling is the decision to design new APIs for the Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications in Office 2007, to enable developers to plug in additional document formats and users to set these formats as their default for saving documents. Although it was not clear at the time of writing, this is likely to relate to the Open Document Format championed by Microsoft competitors.

Microsoft also said it plans to launch an Open Source Interoperability Initiative "to promote and enable more interoperability between commercial and community-based open-source technologies and Microsoft products". The company said this initiative will provide resources, facilities and events, including labs, plug fests, technical content and opportunities for ongoing co-operative development.

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