Who still cares about Microsoft's server-communications protocols?

Summary:Now that the Court of First Instance has overturned Microsoft's appeal of the European Union's antitrust case, Microsoft is finally going to have to deliver all required protocols and documentation for a price deemed reasonable. But who will care, at this point? Samba and ... Samba.

Microsoft has used all kinds of excuses for not providing access to the server communications protocols that other vendors have said they needed to make their products interoperable with Windows Server.

Who still cares about Microsoft's server-communications protocols?We've heard it all: Documenting these protocols would require time (like years...). Microsoft would be harmed by having to make public its intellectual property. A fair pricing scheme needed to be determined. Making public the protocols would be redundant, as Microsoft already is providing other vendors with the required interop information via one-on-one licensing and interop deals.

Now that the Court of First Instance has overturned Microsoft's appeal of the European Union's antitrust case, Microsoft is finally going to have to deliver all required protocols and documentation for a price deemed reasonable. But who cares, at this point?

Samba and ... Samba.

That point comes across loud in clear in a podcast on Groklaw with Jeremy Allison [above right], co-author of Samba; Volker Lendecke, a member of the Samba team; Georg Greve, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe; and Carlo Piana, the lawyer for Samba and FSF.

Greve noted that by the time of the September 17 Court decision, Microsoft had "bought out" most of the companies who originally wanted the protocol information, specifically Novell, Sun and the Computer and Communications Information Association (which represented a number of Microsoft's rivals). As a result, the only vendor who has been advocating actively for access to Microsoft's protocols is Samba.

This is a bit deceptive, however, as Samba is doing implementations on behalf of a number of vendors. Here's Allison from the Groklaw interview:

"So the interesting thing... (Microsoft General Counsel) Brad Smith gave a statement just after the judgment was announced, where he talked about how the industry had changed and Microsoft was doing deals with Sun. Sun had now become a Windows OEM. They had the Novell deal, et cetera. What he didn't say was that both Sun and Novell, their workgroup server implementation is Samba (laughter) which is being explicitly excluded from the agreements that they've done with Novell. (laughter) And IBM's workgroup server implementation is Samba, and Apple's workgroup server implementation is Samba, and... y'know. You go into Fry's Electronics in the US and any sub-$5,000 NAS box you will find in the place is Samba. So essentially, anyone who actually really competes with them has been excluded from these agreements."

And the idea that Microsoft could simply extend its existing Microsoft Communications Protocol Program (MCPP) to provide Samba with the required interoperability protocols and documentation is a sham, too, Allison said.

"(I)f you look at the agreement that Microsoft had done with companieslike Novell, and probably Xandros and Linspire -- I've only seen the Novell agreement, I haven't seen the Xandros or Linspire ones, the Novell ones are public by the way -- you will find that they specifically exclude what Microsoft call in their legal documents "clone products", which I think they include Samba among. So yeah, there's this whole theory that they're trying to set up that Samba is a clone of Windows and therefore is not available for protection.

"The interesting thing about the licensing is that I think what Microsoft will try and do... I believe this might have been what some of the discussions with the Commission have already been about is that they're trying to say 'look, we have a licensing programme already that we implemented in the US for the Department of Justice case" and that's the MCPP, Microsoft Communications Protocol Program licensing program, and what they were trying to do is to say "Well, why don't we just extend that to cover the server-to-server stuff and then we'll adopt that in the EU and let's settle the case."' The problem with the MCPP is that it's an abject failure in that if you look at the companies that are licensed under that program, and the license terms are explicitly designed to exclude free software, so they're designed so there's a per-royalty basis, there's a time limit on the implementation's validity - I think it's about five years - there's royalties, there's per-seat licenses. There's all sorts of methods to make this unusable in a free software implementation."

The rest of the Groklaw podcast and transcript are definitely worth a read.

So, yes, while I did say I think Microsoft has changed some of its monopolistic ways, I would be the first to admit it has not changed them all. Microsoft's stall tactics and word games around providing interoperability information is a case in point.

Topics: Hardware, Browser, Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Servers, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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