Free Software Foundation pushes for Microsoft server protocols

The FSF believes the software giant's "secret" information is a messy implementation of standard technologies, but Microsoft says revealing its server protocols would violate its intellectual property rights.

The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has applied to intervene in a case Microsoft filed against the European Commission in August, claiming that the software giant is trying to protect a technology with little intrinsic value.

The FSFE is already involved in Microsoft's ongoing lawsuit, which the software giant filed in June last year to appeal against the measures imposed by the EC.

The new case that Microsoft filed in August claims that the EC's request that server protocol information can be used in open source projects violates Microsoft's intellectual-property (IP) rights.

"The distribution of source code in which the protocols are implemented would put the intellectual property that makes up the protocols in the public domain," said a Microsoft spokesperson on Friday. "There are a range of different pieces of IP in the protocols, including patents and trade secrets."

But Carlo Piana, a partner at Milan law firm Tamos Piana & Partners, which represents the FSFE, said on Thursday that Microsoft is trying to protect a technology that has little intrinsic value.

"For the secret stuff Microsoft is claiming, the value of this technology is yet to be assessed. Most of what you have [in the server protocols] is an implementation of standard technologies like LDAP, SMB and Kerberos. They have made a mess of it, but that's not necessarily a technological value," said Piana.

Piana compared the value of the information in the server protocols to the value of a key, claiming that the information is merely being used to prevent other firms, such as Samba, from creating systems that can access the information in a Windows server.

"[The server protocols] are just a key Microsoft have hidden under a brick. Of course the key is valuable because it unlocks the door to the loot, but the key has very little value on its own," he said.

Jeremy Allison the co-founder of Samba, the open source file and print server software, said in an interview earlier this year that Samba finds it difficult to maintain interoperability with Windows servers due to frequent changes that Microsoft makes to the protocols.

"They make changes to the protocol all the time," he said. "It is usually some new wrinkle placed on top of things we already have working."

Piana also said that Microsoft's statement that any implementation of the server interoperability information will infringe the software giant's intellectual property was "too general".

"We don't disagree that this might happen, but it must be assessed on a per case basis--you must assess if it is true for each component of the technology," said Piana.

Piana added that a balance must be struck between Microsoft's interest in protecting its IP and the European Commission's interest in promoting competition.

"Even if there are parts of Microsoft's intellectual property that are revealed to the public, it could be reasonable, if you consider the damage that its anti-competitive behavior is causing and could cause in the future to the market," said Piana. "Microsoft cannot say that just because it is suffering some damage, no steps can be taken."

The Microsoft spokesperson was unable to comment on the FSFE's claims.

The European Commission conducted a market test of Microsoft's server interoperability license over the summer to evaluate the "innovative character of the protocols" and check whether the royalties Microsoft proposes to charge are "reasonable". On Thursday it was still analyzing the results of the market test, according to an EC spokesman.

The original antitrust ruling also asked Microsoft to offer a version of Windows without its bundled media player, but PC vendors still have no plans to sell this the altered version of Windows, almost six months after it was released.