Meandering through the Microsoft NDA maze

Meandering through the Microsoft NDA maze

Summary: Given the complexity and murkiness of many Microsoft non-disclosure agreements, it's good (and somewhat amusing) to see a member of Microsoft's Dynamics CRM team attempt to spell out the NDA terms for "Titan," a k a Dynamics CRM 4.0


NDAs: Non-disclosure agreements. They're the bane of many bloggers' and reporters' existence.

Meandering through the Microsoft NDA mazeCompanies love to slap NDAs on partners and customers -- as well as those of us who write about them -- so folks won't blab before they're allowed about what's coming and when. NDAs are especially onerous when Microsoft and other companies attempt to enforce them for even those products and technologies that are no longer secret. (Vista SP1 and Windows XP SP3 come readily to mind here.)

NDAs can be minefield. If one person breaks a Microsoft NDA, is the information covered by it subsequently considered public? That's one of many gray areas I've encountered myself.

Given these complex rules and regulations, it's good (and somewhat amusing) to see a member of Microsoft's Dynamics CRM team attempt to spell out the NDA terms for "Titan," a k a Dynamics CRM 4.0.

Microsoft CRM Solution Specialist Ben Vollmer posted on October 10 a blog entry entitled, "So the CRM Titan NDA is lifted? Yes and No...". (I am going to quote from the post at length, since I wouldn't be surprised to see it removed from the MSDN blogs site relatively soon.) Vollmer explained:

"As you have probably seen from the other blogs out there, the NDA for partners in the Early Adopters Program has been lifted. Sorta... Some of the restrictions are being lifted in order to effectively continue to build the interest, demand and your opportunities in the market for Titan. However you should be aware of the following restrictions and items still left out there... :-)

"1. Dynamics CRM partners can now discuss and demo the upcoming Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 release to customers in a 1:1 environment without an NDA. There are still restrictions in place around production usage as well as holding partner-led 4.0 launch events for multiple customers/prospects. See below for details.

"2. NDA restrictions are still in place for customers and partners participating in the CRM Live Early Access program until December 1, 2007.

"3. Upgradeability Notice: The current 4.0 beta version (CTP3), and any of your associated configuration and customizations, will NOT upgrade to the 4.0 RTM release. This notice only applies to the current CTP3 release."

In case you're still not clear, Vollmer supplies a "handy chart" regarding NDA coverage for the on-premise version of CRM 4.0.

It's been more than a little confusing to try to keep track of where the CRM 4.0 bits are in the beta/final pipeline. Users ultimately will be able to deploy the product on-premise, via a third-party hosting partner or via Microsoft as the host. But the final version of the Microsoft-hosted option -- designed to put Microsoft into head-to-head competition with -- has been delayedl until some time in the first half of 2008, in terms of  general availability. The final partner-hosted/on-premise options are available to anyone starting in the fourth quarter of 2007. (A spokeswoman helped me wade through this confusion and tighten up my explanation here.  All I can say is "Whew! Good luck explaining that one to the masses.")

The Microsoft-hosted version ("Dynamics Live CRM") went to more than 100 customers and partners under an early-access program launched in early October, a company spokeswoman confirmed. (I think these folks are still not able to say a whole lot, at least if they are required to adhere to Vollmer's aforementioned quasi-NDA rules.)

The whole murky area around exactly what is covered by an NDA and what isn't seems ripe for an overhaul, at least on the Microsoft front. Perpetual and all-encompassing NDAs seem especially ripe for a makeover.

Any NDA horror stories -- or suggestions for improving NDAs -- to share?

(Traquair Maze. Image by fbechwati. CC 2.0)

Topics: Microsoft, Banking, Enterprise Software, Software


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Non Disclosure Obsession

    Maybe the patch people are prohibited from releasing a fix for the Base Filtering Engine bug by and NDA.

    I had to sign an NDA for my real job. It pretty much promises that I'll die or never work anywhere else ever again. Gotta love it.
    • who knows?

      if they are, they're almost guaranteed to not be allowed to say whether they are :P

      and I've signed multiple NDAs before. half of them actually had so many exemption clauses, it basically said there were only a few times you couldn't disclose anything... (normally it was competitors, the government, and the media...)

      really, the main issue with NDAs, is that while you can't tell of the stuff, doesn't mean you can't act on the stuff. that'd be your good ol' non-competition agreement/contract.
    • Is every one of your posts about some "base filtering engine" bug?

      I swear this is the fourth or fifth time I've clicked on a talkback post and seen a totally off-topic comment about some "Base Filtering Engine" bug... what the heck does this supposed bug have to do with every single article on ZDNet?

      And, dare I ask what the alleged bug actually IS? I assume you've contacted Microsoft support...what was their response?
  • The funny thing is

    any of the companies requiring these NDA's would be extremely offended if no one seemed interested in what they were doing. :-)
    • As microsoft has said...

      If someone's going to pirate something, we'd prefer it to be our thing they pirate.

      or at least, that's the gist of it, as I don't remember the exact wording, and don't feel like hunting for it. ^_^
      • The proper interpretation would be...

        ...they'd rather people pirate MS software than use a competitor's, legally or not.
        John L. Ries
  • The NDA is supposed to be two-way ...until Microsoft breach the NDA it!

    A very one-sided debate. We were told we were protected when discussing, under NDA, a confidential idea with a Microsoft VP. Microsoft started work on the TADAG concept almost immediately, after it was revealed to them in November 2004. It later resurfaced, as a Microsoft-sponsored venture, in the guise of OpenID!

    In response to complaints, Microsoft responded to one of their own concerned employees that corporate rules relating to ethical conduct "do not apply to matters relating to IPR". Now their lawyers act as protection buffers to the same corporate executives who have crowed on about ethical standards.

    ...not with a bargepole...
    David Gale