Microsoft's licence to kill

Microsoft's licence to kill

Summary: Microsoft's response to the EC's antitrust ruling is breathtaking in its audacity. It cannot be allowed to stand

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TOPICS: IT Employment
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Let's start with some facts. Microsoft has been found guilty by the highest authorities in Europe — as in the US — of abusing its monopoly position. As a result, the company is required to stop that abuse. In this case, it has been told it must make server protocols available: by withholding that information, it has prevented companies from writing competitive software.

The guilty party has responded not by publishing the information but by producing a licence. This says that in exchange for lots of money, you can look at the documents and implement the protocols — crucially, including details covered by "claims of a patent or patent application that are necessarily infringed by implementing the [...] documentation".

So far, you don't need a licence to write software for Microsoft operating systems. There's always been the choice — pay up and become a buddy, or develop it independently by reverse engineering. Microsoft's control regime actively discourages the second path — illegally, as the EC has found — but has never been able to actually ban it.

No longer. Microsoft, in responding to the requirement to publish withheld information, is taking the opportunity to actually extend its abuse of power. The implications of the licence are that if you don't sign up you will be open to a patent suit — of course the patents aren't listed, but it's fair to assume that a company capable of patenting the idea of XML documents is not going to be restricted by outmoded concepts such as prior art or novelty.

There is no reason to believe that this is the last such licence. If Microsoft is saying that even using its protocols requires permission, then it is capable of extending that to its desktop and portable operating systems. The company is preparing to bring all applications software under its control — and needless to say, open source is explicitly banned.

The EC must act at once. It is already unhappy with the fees, but that is barely the start. It must insist that Microsoft makes the information available in a way that permits open source to interoperate in accordance with the judgement — and that Microsoft commits to keeping it that way. Even better, it could kill the EU software patent directive, the consequences of which have never been more starkly apparent.

The alternative is to see an extension of anti-competitive practice to dwarf everything that's gone before — a breathtaking contempt of court that calls into question our ability to apply the law. Bill Gates may be a British knight, but he is not yet emperor of Europe.

For a detailed look at the details and implications of Micrososft's proposed licence, read our FAQ.

Topic: IT Employment

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12 comments
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  • I love how each new release of Microsoft products have more bugs and everything is moved around.
    We upgraded to Excel 2003 at the end of 2004, and have had nothing but problems with our Excel add-ins and workbooks (spending a few weeks rewriting everything to ensure stability and compatibility).
    Going backwards is not an option - but going forwards is.
    Each time I encounter these silly bugs, I spend 15 mins looking at how I can do the same job in StarOffice/Open Office. Initially I was disappointed (a year ago), these days I'm hopeful for the future.

    Give me another year or two, and perhaps I can port everything out of MSOffice and into an Open Source alternative, where I can see what code bug causes my add-in to fail.
    I'll spend the time to write a patch and announce it to the moderators as per the GPL licence.
    My bug will go away forever, and I will have contributed to something greater than myself.

    Long live The Rebellion. Down with The Empire.
    anonymous
  • How idiotic. The license is available to Open Source providers, it's simply not compatible with THEIR choosen way of doing business. Additionally, the court never said MSFT couldn't charge for it. Even the socialist EU stops short of telling a company they had to give up their IP and do it for free. This whole issue is a political/national football. The reality is that anyone who wanted a rival media player could already easily download and MILLIONS do everyday. Additionally, when al the dust clears, hardly any of MSFT's competitors who were so disadvantaged by not having access to MSFT's code, will actually end up licensing it - just like in the US. Because, this isn't about access it's about trying to beat MSFT in court because they can't beat them in front of the customer.
    anonymous
  • How idiotic. ANYBODY can beat Microsoft in front of the customer. Microsoft just makes sure that you can't find customers.
    anonymous
  • As those of us in the US have already found out, money talks. The chances of the EC doing anything effective about Microsoft's ruining the EU software market are about zero. In particular, those who are paying attention notice that all attempts to kill the creation of software patents in the EU have eventually been defeated by backdoor politics by the plutocracy, and Microsoft would not have tried this license "solution" if its army of lawyers was worried about fines -- $5 million a day sounds like a lot, unless you remember that Microsoft has over $9 *billion* in cash reserves, and even a year of fines only adds up to $1.8 billion. Computing was a nice field for awhile, but it's ruined now. This is all just end game.
    anonymous
  • I'm afraid I have to disagree with your statement.

    If you read over the license agreement, there are two important issues:

    1. The license fee
    2. The non-sharing code condition

    The first part (license fee) is a problem not because they charge a fee. Microsoft is allowed to charge a fee for the license, and most would agree that is fair. Other companies charge money to view their API's (though some, such as Apple, do not).

    What is under dispute is the <em>amount</em> of the license fee. If the fee is $500, that's fine. It's enough that any small business (or group) could afford. Microsoft charges $ for the license - you can see the license itself here:

    http://download.microsoft.com/download/F/9/E/F9E7224E-F673-4E7E-A6F1-14ED283F8030/EU_WSPPAgmt_012505.pdf

    The amount in question is $50,000 (see Page 17) - far more than most individuals, let alone small business or groups, could afford.

    By doing so, Microsoft is saying "OK, you can view the API's, but we're going to make it so expensive that few people can do it."

    This goes in the spirit of the ruling from the EU, which is to allow open competition with Microsoft's server API (aka - allow a competitor to make something like Samba or allow their own product to fully communicate with a Windows server). The point isn't to let only a few companies do it, but allow many companies the chance to counteract Microsoft's monopoly abuses (of which they have been found guilty of by both US and EU courts).

    Part 2 is the ability to share code. Suppose I purchase the API, and I'm on the Samba project, which aims to create an Open Source Windows Server compliant software. This way, I could put a Linux, *BSD, OS X, Sun or Windows server and be sure that it works the way I want, is free of hidden insecure code, or just competes with MS products.

    However, Microsoft's license has a poison pill. They say "OK, so even if you buy the license, you can not share <em>any</em> code you create with your licensed API with others unless they've also licensed the API". This is like saying "OK, I'll let you open the hood of a car so you can make carburetors for it, but if you share how to make the carburetors, we'll sue you." I'm not sharing the API's themselves, just my code that uses them - it's up to the third party to figure that out on their own. (See page 4.)

    This license would directly prevent any Open Source project from ever using Microsoft's server API - which again flies right in the face of the EU's attempt to remedy Microsoft's monopoly practices.

    So the EU is right on this. MS was told to release the API information - not to license it, not to make conditions, but release the information. MS is trying to get around their condition with conditions that the EU does not agree with, and if they continue down this path, the EU is certainly within their power to make them pay for it.

    Of course, this is just my opinion - I could be wrong.
    anonymous
  • As usual, a one sided deal to the extreme.

    It's like a robber saying to a judge:

    But I did nothing wrong, they handed me their money and I accepted.

    Sigh, perhaps they did that because they has a loaded gun pointed at their head?

    But judge, it's more then normal to use a loaded gun in my field of business. Surely you can't hold that against me?

    Now that you mention it, that is kind of normal. And by now people walking on a street should know that a robbery is to be expected. Sir, I'm sorry to inform you that the law requires me to fine you $1 but otherwise you're free to go.

    Thanks judge. By the way, can I have my loaded gun back? I'm short on cash right now and you seem to carry enough money around.
    anonymous
  • Bill touted interoperability, yet all these problems still exist? This "duality" is typical of Microsoft - more lies as usual.
    anonymous
  • Assuming you're refering to my comment, I never said that Microsoft _should_ not be stopped, I said they _won't_ be stopped. They were found guilty in the US too, it just doesn't make any difference since their "punishment" was more a joke than anything else. If I'm wrong and the EC finds the spine to effectively punish Microsoft and makes them live up to the spirit of the ruling, GREAT. I just wouldn't hold me breath.
    anonymous
  • The anonymous poster (second post above) who lists their occupation as mgt (whatever that is!) is clearly ignorant, stupid or biased. How anyone can defend Microsoft - the business that has been found guilty of illegal activities in courts all over the world - beggars belief. Look at the facts! Microsoft is a bullying marketing organisation that foists inferior products on a captive audience maintained through its illegal monopoly. But don't take my word for it - read the facts, and read what Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has to say about Microsoft:
    http://www.twoengineers.com/Richard/microsoft.html
    anonymous
  • All this anti-Microsoft stuff is, in reality, the politics of envy. MS make excellent products and just about everyone buys them. That tells you something about the end-user market and its decision on this issue. Let's face it, if open source software was so good, given that it is cheaper (even free in some cases), people (and business in particular) would use it instead. After all, there are plenty of crap office "suites" to bolt on to you inferior Linux OS if you want to, cheaper than the much better MS offerings. But they don't. Ever stopped to wonder why?
    anonymous
  • <quote>
    All this anti-Microsoft stuff is, in reality, the politics of envy. MS make excellent products and just about everyone buys them. That tells you something about the end-user market and its decision on this issue. Let's face it, if open source software was so good, given that it is cheaper (even free in some cases), people (and business in particular) would use it instead. After all, there are plenty of crap office "suites" to bolt on to you inferior Linux OS if you want to, cheaper than the much better MS offerings. But they don't. Ever stopped to wonder why?
    </quote>

    Actually, you're wrong. Most microsoft products (ive never come across one that isnt) are buggy, and you'd be surprised how many people dont buy them, the only reason they have is that they're shipped with new PCs. If microsoft were open about the format used for saving files, no-one would even want the microsoft products, because while in the past they may have been the best there, these days they arent. Open source projects would instanlty be more popuplar if the average user knew about them, and that's not likely to happen. Take firefox for example, its userbase is climbing because people find it better, but because so few know about it, the growth is slower than anyone would want. It even has better features for distribution across a business network, so why aren't they implementing it? I think I just told you...

    The reason you find linux inferior is years of growing up getting used to windows. Linux is a far superior OS which can be cutsomised to be easier to use, is infinitely more powerful and takes little learning. It would eb much more popular if GNU started paying for adverts on tv, but lets face it they dont have the funds, and with microsofts adverts, theres little point of having an advert of a company youve never heard of. People need to know about the alternatives, and if the EU manage to (as they are trying) to make MS ship longhorn with firefox, then that popularity will increase. Oh yeah, due to longhorns trusted computing compliance it wont run, because open source isnt allowed, and you need to buy a licence from ms. So there we go, ms eliminates competition and open source for its next OS in one fell swoop. Sounds like theyre worried.
    anonymous
  • <quote>
    All this anti-Microsoft stuff is, in reality, the politics of envy. MS make excellent products and just about everyone buys them. That tells you something about the end-user market and its decision on this issue. Let's face it, if open source software was so good, given that it is cheaper (even free in some cases), people (and business in particular) would use it instead. After all, there are plenty of crap office "suites" to bolt on to you inferior Linux OS if you want to, cheaper than the much better MS offerings. But they don't. Ever stopped to wonder why?
    </quote>

    Actually, you're wrong. Most microsoft products (ive never come across one that isnt) are buggy, and you'd be surprised how many people dont buy them, the only reason they have is that they're shipped with new PCs. If microsoft were open about the format used for saving files, no-one would even want the microsoft products, because while in the past they may have been the best there, these days they arent. Open source projects would instanlty be more popuplar if the average user knew about them, and that's not likely to happen. Take firefox for example, its userbase is climbing because people find it better, but because so few know about it, the growth is slower than anyone would want. It even has better features for distribution across a business network, so why aren't they implementing it? I think I just told you...

    The reason you find linux inferior is years of growing up getting used to windows. Linux is a far superior OS which can be cutsomised to be easier to use, is infinitely more powerful and takes little learning. It would eb much more popular if GNU started paying for adverts on tv, but lets face it they dont have the funds, and with microsofts adverts, theres little point of having an advert of a company youve never heard of. People need to know about the alternatives, and if the EU manage to (as they are trying) to make MS ship longhorn with firefox, then that popularity will increase. Oh yeah, due to longhorns trusted computing compliance it wont run, because open source isnt allowed, and you need to buy a licence from ms. So there we go, ms eliminates competition and open source for its next OS in one fell swoop. Sounds like theyre worried.
    anonymous