EC cool on Microsoft 'open source' announcement

The European Commission has said it would welcome a genuine Microsoft move towards interoperability, but adds that it has seen similar announcements before
Written by David Meyer, Contributor and  Tom Espiner, Contributor

The European Commission has expressed doubt regarding Microsoft's announcement on Thursday claiming a move towards greater interoperability.

In a statement, the Commission said that while it would welcome greater interoperability, Microsoft had made similar announcements before.

"The Commission would welcome any move towards genuine interoperability," it said in a statement. "Nonetheless, the Commission notes that today's announcement follows at least four similar statements by Microsoft in the past on the importance of interoperability."

The Commission added that the Microsoft announcement would not affect its antitrust investigations against the software giant.

"In the course of its ongoing interoperability investigation, the Commission will verify whether Microsoft is complying with EU antitrust rules, whether the principles announced today would end any infringement were they implemented in practice, and whether or not the principles announced today are in fact implemented in practice," said the Commission. "Today's announcement by Microsoft does not address the tying allegations."

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, denied that Thursday's move was "to get in compliance with the EC's decision", saying that it reflected "both the reality of our unique legal situation and our view of what will be required, but also what we see as new opportunities and risks in the connected world".

"These steps are being taken on our own," Ballmer added.

Leading figures in the open-source community had mixed reactions to Microsoft's announcement that it would publish "all" details of application-programming interfaces for its high-volume products, list its software patents that cover interoperability, and refrain from suing non-commercial implementations of its products.

Jeremy Allison, a prominent figure in the Samba open-source community, welcomed the move. "I'm generally positive," he told ZDNet.co.uk. "I think Microsoft has realised it can make more money that way [through patents], and more power to [it]. On the face of it, this looks good."

Allison said the announcement wouldn't make any difference to the Samba community, as they already had access to the protocols Microsoft was offering.

"We had to sign NDAs and protection documents," said Allison. "Now Microsoft is handing out [the specs] to anyone, which is what they should have done from the beginning."

However, Mark Taylor from the Open Source Consortium said the Microsoft announcement is "smoke and mirrors".

"Microsoft is saying it will give access to open APIs, however, but there are terms," said Taylor. "It's the same old story. Patent protection applies, and people can use the APIs commercially as long as they pay Microsoft a royalty. They are trying to enclose open commons by trying to apply their business model, which is all about owning technology, to open source."

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