Microsoft and Samba finally come to terms over Windows protocols

Microsoft and Samba finally come to terms over Windows protocols

Summary: After years of public disagreement over ensuring interoperability between their respective software, Microsoft and Samba have come to terms. And not surprisingly, each vendor is offering quite a different spin on the licensing agreement they unveiled on December 20.


After years of public disagreement over ensuring interoperability between their respective software, Microsoft and Samba have come to terms. And not surprisingly, each vendor is offering quite a different spin on the licensing agreement they unveiled on December 20.

Microsoft and Samba finally come to terms over Windows protocolsIt took an intermediary, the Protocol Freedom Information Foundation (PFIF) -- a non-profit organization created by the Software Freedom Law Center -- to hand off the Microsoft protocol documentation that Samba said it needed to make its Unix/Linux file/print sharing products work properly with Windows.

According to a press release issued December 20, Samba is paying Microsoft a one-time sum of 10,000 Euros, after which the PFIF will make available to the Samba Team, under non-disclosure, "the documentation needed for implementation of all of the workgroup server protocols covered by the European Union decision." (The EU decision to which this refers is the Microsoft's loss of its appeal to overturn the European Commission's 2004 antitrust decision against the company.)

Not surprisingly, Samba and Microsoft had quite different spins on today's news.

Samba and the PFIF characterized the agreement as a victory for free software projects. They also reminded observers that Microsoft was required by the European Commission to provide this protocol information as part of the terms of the EU antitrust case. Samba also emphasized that the agreement with Microsoft does not mean Samba is acknowledging that it was or is in violation of any Microsoft patents.

Jeremy Allison, co-creator of Samba, was quoted in the press release as saying:

"We will be able to use the information obtained to continue to develop Samba and create more Free Software. We are hoping to get back to the productive relationship we had with Microsoft during the early 1990's when we shared information about these protocols. The agreement also clarifies the exact patent numbers concerned so there is no possibility of misunderstandings around this issue."

Microsoft, meanwhile, portrayed the protocol agreement with Samba in a more congenial way.

In a post to the Microsoft Port 25 blog, entitled "If you're surprised, you're not paying attention," Microsoft Director of Platform and Technology Strategy Sam Ramji, emphasized recent cooperation between Samba and Microsoft.

Ramji noted that Microsoft recently donated Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Premium subscriptions to the core Samba team; built a test bed with them; started sharing testing tools; and worked to preserve the Unix Extensions in CIFS to ensure continued compatibility with Microsoft's software.

Ramji said he worked with Samba's principals to hammer out an agreement that would fulfill Microsoft's protocol-sharing obligations and make Samba happy. From his December 20 blog post:

"The terms were good, but the Samba team wanted Microsoft to make some changes to fully conform with the existing practices of the Samba developer community .... Attorneys and technologists (always an odd combination) on both sides worked hard to refine the language and do so in a clear and cooperative way. ...

"I expect that this (Samba licensing agreement) will significantly improve the process of Samba development, and produce better quality interoperation between Windows and Linux/UNIX environments.... "What this process has shown me is that if we focus on technology, and patient, diligent execution, we can make real progress together."

However you spin the deal, Microsoft is now doing what the European Commision stipulated three years ago: Sharing protocol information in a way that does not discriminate against the open-source/free-software community.

For more details on today's Samba licensing announcement, check out the post from's Stephen Shankland.

Topics: Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows


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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  • This is great news for me!

    As someone who has 2 Linux servers and multiple Windows desktops, Samba is an extremely important part of my home network. While Samba works really well right now with both XP and Vista, this agreement can't do anything but make Linux+Windows a winning combination. Great news!
    • To be clear

      Samba can provide NT4 style domain security now. What these protocol specifications cover is the active directory stuff.

      Now you'll be able to deploy Linux servers, deliver Active Directory functionality, and avoid the CALs. Which, by the way, you could be avoiding CALs now if you can live with the lack of AD functionality.

      That, my friend, is going to make a very large impact on Microsoft's bottom line, as you'll see fewer server deployments. (That's going to make those 10K Euros taste very bad.)

      • Then its a good thing I'm not tied to MS!

        [i]That, my friend, is going to make a very large impact on Microsoft's bottom line, as you'll see fewer server deployments.[/i]

        I knew learning Linux was going to be a good thing for me. :)
      • Forcing Microsoft to clearly document and open up specifications is great

        Forcing Microsoft to clearly document and open up specifications is great, so long as the EU is kept in check that they don't demand a certain outcome on market share. Unfortunately the EU commission has recently overstepped their authority by saying that Microsoft's market share must drop in order for them to prove they're not breaking the law.
        • You keep forgetting ...

          [i]Unfortunately the EU commission has recently overstepped their authority by saying that Microsoft's market share must drop in order for them to prove they're not breaking the law.[/i]

          We are speaking about the laws and regulations of the EU, not the United States. The EU Commission on Competition has broad and sweeping powers that are granted by the members states of the EU.

          The Competition Commissioner is well within her charter to make such statements and to use market share as a matrix of measurement for compliance if she chooses.
          • Your link doesn't seem to support your statement?

            Interesting link, thank you.

            But I can't find anything there to support your final statement, which is at the crux of the disagreement here.

            In fact, the link makes it pretty clear that having a dominant market share is not itself illegal.

            Giving up market dominance by reducing market share would, of course, be one way of proving that you aren't abusing market dominance. But to require it does not seem consistent with anything in that site. (Referring only to the "Information for Consumers' section you point to; perhaps the answer lies elsewhere on that server).

            Entirely separate from the question of whether the EU decision is legitimate, is the question of whether it is good policy. I think often, both in the US and the EU, regulators have a misguided notion of where consumer's interests lie.

            Consumers don't benefit from competition! They benefit from better products, better prices, or both. Competition does not always result in those.

            What makes a better operating system? I think it's clear that an operating system that provides more functionality is better than one which provides less. Being able to display media is clearly better than not being able to display media.

            Further, from a software development standpoint -- being able to know that all of your customers will be able to see this media, because they all have the same basic media facilities available, including the API to invoke it programatically -- is more than helpful. Having to support 10 different media players would mean lots of software either would not support media, or the end user would have to go and obtain 10 different media players, just to display the same type of content in 10 different applications.

            Raising the bar of "least common denominator" may have anti-competitive effects, and indirectly hurt consumers, but it also has direct pro-consumer effects.

            So I have some concerns about the impact on consumers and vendors (other than media player vendors) of the Windows Media Player portion of the decision.

            On the other hand, I think the portion that lets Samba get the information they need is a Good Thing.

            Let's not drink the "competition solves all problems" Kool-Aid.
          • Clarification...

            Re: "I think often, both in the US and the EU, regulators have a misguided notion of where consumer's interests lie."

            I think it's not so much that they're misguided about consumer interest, as that they respond to complaints by competitors who are clearly being harmed by the behavior. It is just assumed that because competition is being harmed, that consumers are being harmed.

            In truth, customers are usually both harmed and helped by such things. From the customer standpoint, all the money going to the product they did NOT buy is money that could have gone to support advancing of the product they DID buy.

            Competition divides resources. It's one thing when it is simply dividing the resources for a particular kind of product. But when the product is something that serves as a platform for an entire industry -- say web browsers, media players, etc. -- then you end up dividing the resources of the entire industry, to develop and test against the multiple platforms.

            And the cost of that is staggering.

            Of course, it's not just competition to blame. In IE vs Netscape, on both sides, but especially IE, we have the failure to implement and follow standards, instead trying to 'innovate' to lock in users -- directly harming the users in the process.

            And on the Netscape side, we have serious mismanagement, putting releases on hold to do a full rewrite. Harming users, and ceding the market to IE.

            Now we have, with very small concessions by Microsoft, a situation where they are steadily losing market share to a better-run descendant of Netscape. And now, apparently, Microsoft is committing to following the standards in IE 8.

            So are end users helped or hurt by competition? The truth is -- both. But it's clearly more complex than just the dogma "competition is good for the consumer".

            I think we can make a distinction, however, between the question of whether competition is good or bad for the consumer, and whether artificial [i]barriers[/i] to competition is a good thing or not. Especially when those barriers are barriers of compatibility.

            Making information available to Samba I think clearly helps consumers, because it adds to their compatible choices, without lock-in.
          • Excellent and balanced analysis

        • EU

          You really have to start thinking outside your self-defined rule box. The EU "overstepped their authority"? Last time I checked, the USA had not invaded Europe, so the Europeans can do as they please on their own soil, even if it goes against what you perceive to be right. Incorporate that 'rule' in your box and suddenly there's a lot less to get excited about.

          EU is not accountable to the US, the UN, and certainly not George Ou.
          • Not saying George is right or wrong, but...

            But since the EU is, in fact, bound by a system of rules and laws, it is certainly legitimate to charge that they have overstepped their rules, without making any reference to the US, the UN, or George Ou.

            George is either wrong or right (I don't know enough to judge), but your response is silly.
          • Microsoft appealed...

            They lost. So, it would be natural to conclude that George's accusations are baseless as the "watchdog" side of the EC was used and Microsoft's appeal(s) were found wanting. Hmmm, repeating myself. Either a politician or parent is lurking inside me... Should I worry?
          • Unless I'm mistaken...

            Unless I'm mistaken (QUITE possible!) they did not choose to exhaust their available avenues of appeal, but rather chose to comply after losing the first round of appeal.

            So, one level of court found their appeal wanting, but it's not entirely settled (except for this specific case, of course).

            And, of course, we're assuming George's objection is the same as the one Microsoft raised.

            I suspect Microsoft made a decision that it was better to comply than to risk exhausting the avenues of appeal and resulting in a more binding precedent. (But that is clearly speculating from my USA-centric experience).

            Anyway, it makes a lot more sense to weigh George's opinion vs the court's opinion, than to dismiss George because he's from the US.

            But I disagree with the US Supreme Court on a number of major issues. Surely I'm entitled to my opinion! I have some issues with some decisions of Japanese courts as well. I'm well aware that, from a legal standpoint, my opinion is "wrong" -- i.e. I'd lose in court.

            This conversation would be so much more interesting if we could talk about why Microsoft lost the appeal, or why George holds his opinion. Or whether the EU rules are good or evil.

            I admit, I do suspect George was just shooting from the cuff on this, but not nearly as much as the counterattacks!

            But I suppose a civilized debate on opinions and issues is too much to ask around here.
          • Same mistake

            You don't know how the EU operates.
            Think outside your USA-box.
          • Still silly -- EU rules are not a USA box!

            Please explain to me how saying that EU actions should be judged by EU rules constitutes thinking inside a USA box?

            You're just being silly, trying to make points criticizing others with nothing to say.

            The only one talking about USA rules, or thinking about the USA at all, is you.

            Your assumption that I am from the US happens to be correct, but I bet you just got lucky on that. (Though you could research it).

            If you'd really like to show you're smarter than George, why not explain the EU rules and how the EU ruling is sanctioned by those rules? That would be a constructive post -- one I'd find quite interesting.

            Or, if you're not knowledgeable enough (no shame in that), but doubtful, just challenge George to justify his opinion in terms of the EU system. He's either right or wrong, within the context of the EU.

            The USA and your supposed USA box have nothing to do with this.
          • Bob, you take your loss badly

            and it shows.

            Check on the other posts - it will enlighten you.

            Now, stop playing like you know it all - it's becoming embarrassing. Take a trip abroad, have some coffee, relax.
          • Loss == fail to convince nizuse?

            I'm unsure of any other sense that I've lost.

            Pretty much, it seems your argument boils down to "you're from the US, therefore you're thinking in a US-centric box, and your opinion is worthless".

            I've addressed this, and you just transfer your objection from George to myself.

            Certainly, I've learned things from posts here. And I've explicitly stated I don't know how the EU operates. I've made no assertions about how it operates at all! I've raised questions about whether the EU -- HOWEVER it operates -- is good for consumers, indicating these would be good points to discuss.

            Somehow, I don't see how I could have "lost". Is there some assertion I've made that you disagree with? How can I lose when you don't even indicate what you disagree with?

            Oh, I guess by responding to a troll, I have, by definition, lost... My mistake.
        • Can you elaborate on this?

          I am curios as to your understanding of European laws, European markets and the ramifications on multinational corporations (like Microsoft). Exactly where did the EU commission overstep their scope of power? Exactly how is it violation of European Union laws or are you mistakenly trying to apply American laws (only valid in the United States and related territories) to the European Union?
          • Don't expect George to answer

            He's quick to judge, and slow to admit mistakes.
  • What is samba?

    I was just wondering what samba was, so i'd have this whole issue in better focus.
    • sorry

      sorry, decided to google it. pls ignore.