Microsoft's contempt will be returned

Microsoft's fear of open competition is being taken to ridiculous lengths. It will do the company no good

The classic definition of chutzpah is that of a boy who kills both his parents and then asks the court for mercy on the grounds that he's an orphan. This is no longer adequate on a planet inhabited by Microsoft.

Microsoft has been found guilty by the EU of abusing its monopoly position. It has been told to redress the damage in part by making its protocols available to competitors. It has chosen to do so by charging large licensing fees and excluding open source development -- its primary competitor -- while simultaneously complaining that open source software lacks interoperability.

It would take a team of geologists many months to dig through the multiple strata of irony in this case. The protocol Microsoft is so jealously guarding was invented at IBM and has been widely adopted across the industry: Server Message Blocks was intended to be and has been used as an open, extensible networking system. Only Microsoft has taken it and created undocumented proprietary extensions, renaming it the Common Internet Filing System along the way. As was the case with the Holy Roman Empire, it is none of the things in its name.

This sort of contemptuous attitude is mirrored in the way the company is complying with the court's other requests. It has unbundled Windows Media Player from Windows XP, but called the result the 'Reduced Media Edition' and larded it with warnings. Good grace is apparently in shorter supply in Redmond than SMB documentation.

Microsoft's behaviour is technically, morally and practically indefensible. It could publish its CIFS specification tomorrow if it so chose, an act that would correspond closely to the spirit and letter of the European decision. The company would then be free to compete through the simple process of making better products, something it claims to favour, while also encouraging precisely the sort of interoperability it says is missing.

If it carries on treating courts, users and competitors with contempt, however, it will eventually find the favour returned. Distrust and distaste are powerful forces that persuade many people to move to open source, and by its reaction to the EU ruling Microsoft is doing superbly well at fuelling both.

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