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

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.

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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 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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28 comments
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  • Who cares....?????

    Those "communication protocols" are what Microsoft uses to implement AD....actually, they're not closed communication protocols, in many cases they're closed extensions to already available public standards

    Those communication protocols are considered one of the reasons why Windows Server sells so much. Microsoft owns the desktop market, and the AD client built in in every windows desktop machine uses propietary extensions, so only windows server can be used as a well-integrated AD DS for windows clients.


    This stops not just Linux, but any non-Microsoft OS. "only samba cares"? Samba is the software used by pretty much all the non-microsoft operative systems (including all the unixes - solaris, aix, etc) to interoperate with microsoft. If microsoft published those protocols, any non-microsoft server could be used as AD DS in microsoft networks. Microsoft obviously doesn't want that, and has tried hard to avoid publishing anything.

    Documenting those extensions would not take microsoft "a year", specially considering that microsoft neccesarily has to have documented them internally. What microsoft needs to show the world is a RFC-like document explaining the extensions and/or propietary protocols used. Not certainly a lot of work for Microsoft.


    It's funny to see how Microsoft is trying to look 'open' to get the ISO aproval for the OOXML standard, but when it's about the procotols that forbid non-windows operative systems from competing with windows server in the ubiquous windows networks.....microsoft tries all the possible legal tricks to avoid publishing it, even if they've to pay 500? millions.
    diegocg
    • Don't be so sure

      [i]Documenting those extensions would not take microsoft "a year", specially considering that microsoft neccesarily has to have documented them internally.[/i]

      Don't be so sure. Hanlon's Razor suggests that Microsoft may well be telling us the absolute truth: the only documentation they have for their software is the source code. From people I know who work for them, that's very consistent with the corporate culture.

      [i]What microsoft needs to show the world is a RFC-like document explaining the extensions and/or propietary protocols used. Not certainly a lot of work for Microsoft.[/i]

      You apparently have never had to reverse-engineer your way through twenty years' accumulation of cruft.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • Doesn't matter what Microsoft says ...

        It matters what the final judgment says:

        "48 By way of remedy for the abusive refusal referred to in Article 2(a) of the contested decision, Article 5 of that decision provides as follows:

        ?(a) Microsoft ? shall, [b]within 120 days[/b] of the date of notification of [the contested decision], make the interoperability information available to any undertaking having an interest in developing and distributing work group server operating system products and shall, on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, allow the use of the interoperability information by such undertakings for the purpose of developing and distributing work group server operating system products;"

        http://curia.europa.eu/jurisp/cgi-bin/form.pl?lang=en&newform=newform&Submit=Submit&alljur=alljur&jurcdj=jurcdj&jurtpi=jurtpi&jurtfp=jurtfp&alldocrec=alldocrec&docj=docj&docor=docor&docop=docop&docav=docav&docsom=docsom&docinf=docinf&alldocnorec=alldocnorec&docnoj=docnoj&docnoor=docnoor&typeord=ALLTYP&allcommjo=allcommjo&affint=affint&affclose=affclose&numaff=&ddatefs=&mdatefs=&ydatefs=&ddatefe=&mdatefe=&ydatefe=&nomusuel=Microsoft&domaine=&mots=&resmax=100

        Microsoft has had over 3 years from the original ruling to produce these specs. If Microsoft doesn't delivery the specs within 120 days the fines will increase dramatically. EU Competitive Commissioner Neelie Kroes is fed up with Microsoft's tactics of delay and obfuscation.

        Microsoft knows it's game over. Check out the conciliatory tone lead attorney Brad Smith when he discusses the issue of compliance:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqgG1ixpXbQ

        ?You can take this as a gentle word of warning, if you like. We are just at the beginning of a period of more intensive antitrust enforcement.? - Neelie Kroes, EU Competition Commisioner
        MisterMiester
        • Two ways of looking at it

          [i]Doesn't matter what Microsoft says[/i]

          Legally, you're right. I was discussing history.

          [i]If Microsoft doesn't delivery the specs within 120 days the fines will increase dramatically. EU Competitive Commissioner Neelie Kroes is fed up with Microsoft's tactics of delay and obfuscation.[/i]

          Which may, in fact, cause them to dump another jar of pennies. The fines are currently not even at the petty-cash level.

          [i]Microsoft knows it's game over. Check out the conciliatory tone lead attorney Brad Smith when he discusses the issue of compliance:[/i]

          Well, if you'll pardon me, [b]duh![/b] Of course he's talking conciliation. An outright declaration of war doesn't buy nearly as much time as a cooperative talk.

          Look, if I'm in front of a judge and am ordered to do something I have no intention of doing, which is a better plan:
          1) Flip off the judge and tell him to stuff his Order where the Sun don't shine, or
          2) Say, "right away Your Honor," and then go about my business?

          I may end up in the slammer for contempt either way, but the second approach buys me time. Given time, a lot can happen. I could die. The plaintiff could die. The judge could die. Who knows? Maybe the horse could learn to sing.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
          • Microsoft is at the short end ...

            [i]Which may, in fact, cause them to dump another jar of pennies. The fines are currently not even at the petty-cash level.[/i]

            Everyone has a pain threshold includes Microsoft. They have no recourse at this moment except to appeal to the Court of Justice which can only rule on issues of applicable law. With the court decision the EU Competitive Commision has been issued a mandate and can raise the fines to any level they determine is necessary to bring Microsoft into compliance. It could be $10, $20, $30 million dollars a day, the skies the limit.

            [i]Well, if you'll pardon me, duh! Of course he's talking conciliation. An outright declaration of war doesn't buy nearly as much time as a cooperative talk.[/i]

            To be honest I don't believe that it was so much conciliatory, but just his shock that he actual lost most of the appeal to the EU and a small collection of free software people. It's just mind boggling.

            Any cooperative talks are pretty much over. The EU has come this far, they're not going to stop any time soon. Neelie Kroes has the backing of an independent judicial body and she's going to put the screws to Microsoft. It's beyond just compliance at this point, the EU has to save face.

            [i]Who knows? Maybe the horse could learn to sing.[/i]

            I don't know, but it looks like the fat lady is starting to warm up her voice. :)
            MisterMiester
  • Jeremy Allison is one of the worlds biggest whiners!

    .
    ye
    • Did you mean, "One of the world's biggest winners?"

      If I was a simple software developer, standing virtually alone against one of largest, most intimidating software companies in the world - and their army of well-trained and highly-paid lawyers, I'd probably be a "whiner" as well. Given the fact that Jeremy has the serious nads to stand up to Microsoft - and to do it on principle and not simply for money - I can totally give him some slack for any perceived "whining." On the other hand, he's definitely a "winner" and I'm proud of him and his cohorts. (The groklaw.net article Foley refers to is indeed a great read, even if you're a MS supporter in this case.)

      It is very gratifying to hear about techno-geeks winning in court against MS and their legal superstars. Like Jeremy said, it is easy to write a legal brief when all you have to do is tell the truth. OTOH, the MS lawyers earn their money every time they open their mouths and vomit forth spin-doctored half-truths and slick-sounding duplicity.

      I, for one, am a geek who's happy with "one of the world's biggest whiners."

      -MC
      Mercutio_Viz
      • I'm with You!!!

        Jeremy is not only a winner, he's a Hero, with a capital H. Only envious losers whine about Heroes.

        Gooooo Jeremy......!
        Ole Man
      • Nope, I meant what I wrote: Whiners

        .
        ye
      • Whiner could be correct

        [i]and the license terms are explicitly designed to exclude free software, ... There?s all sorts of methods to make this unusable in a free software implementation[/i]

        So he thinks that MS should freely give the code to a company like Red Hat as they earn nothing from the software, yet have made 435.5 million in sales the last 12 months?

        Oh yeah, If the OS is GPLv3 then MS must allow it to be given away for free, to all the companies who are making money off of Linux.

        If they are making money off of support, then they can pay out the money for the license
        John Zern
        • So he thinks that MS should freely give the code

          No, he does not. In fact he explicitly states that He, and the SaMBa team do not want Microsot's code.

          The only thing they are intersted in are the communications protocols, the same type of thing that Microsoft claims to be giving a way freely with OOXML, and which the Open Document Foundation does give away freely (the ODF specification).

          Microsoft's word games have you confused. A specification is what you create code from, and it is the specification that the SaMBa developers want, so that they can create code that will interoperate with the code Microsoft created using the same specification.

          It is this type of information that EU competition law states must be freely available to competitors, so that Monopolies do not have an unfair advantage in the market place, so that new companies have a chance to innovate and, if what they have is better than what the monopoly has, grow.
          tracy anne
  • nobody cares!

    with Linux becoming de facto standard OS there is no need to work on windoze interoperability.
    Linux Geek
    • (raised eyebrow)

      The de facto standard? With what, 1.5% of the desktop base and maybe 40% of the server base world wide?

      I'm curious about what you've been smoking, it must be some *seriously* halucinogenic stuff!
      wolf_z
      • Not even

        [i]The de facto standard? With what, 1.5% of the desktop base and maybe 40% of the server base world wide?[/i]

        Desktop share may be a bit higher; server share is probably lower. From a "market share" (as distinct from penetration) perspective the desktop percentage is vanishingly small; the server number is, IIRC, about 30%
        Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Put the pipe down, slowly

      Dude, that stuff isn't going to leave much of whatever mind you still have if you don't lose the habit.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • Agreed

        I'm a Linux user and FOSS supporter, but even I know fanboi credulity when I see it. Linux might be making some inroads on the desktop market, but it is quite small. Also, while the numbers of Linux server installs is growing, the number of MS server installs is growing more quickly, thus the reduction in relative market share.

        In answer to the original question: a lot of us care. As long as MS abuses its dominant position to remain 'the only choice' then a lot of people will care, especially the great many IT guys (like myself) who work in a heavily mixed Windows + Linux environment. I *need* Windows to play nicely with Linux. Actually, Windows does play nicely (somewhat), but it's *Microsoft* who isn't playing nicely. I'm glad the EC laid the legal smackdown on them, even if I do share some of John Carroll's concerns about anti-trust zealotry. (http://blogs.zdnet.com/carroll/?p=1751).

        To the FSFE and Samba team I say: thank you for being a thorn in MS's side and helping to force them to be honest.

        -MC
        Mercutio_Viz
        • Growth rates

          [i]Also, while the numbers of Linux server installs is growing, the number of MS server installs is growing more quickly, thus the reduction in relative market share.[/i]

          Actually, Linux-preloaded server sales are growing faster than MS-preloaded server sales. Not just as a percentage, but in absolute numbers.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
          • We should not forget embedded

            Linux sales are skyrocketing in the embedded area.

            Desktop is the one area of restricted growth, I wonder why? (hint read blog);-)
            Richard Flude
          • Thanks for the info

            I must have been reading information that had been through the "Ballmer filter"!!

            -MC
            Mercutio_Viz
          • Growth Rates

            A lot of shops don't buy their Windows Server OS already installed.
            Very small shops (less than 10 servers) and very large shops probably do, but there are many, many, shops that buy their licensing seperately from their hardware. So YMMV with the pre-loaded numbers.
            beatphreek