Microsoft publishes more protocol documentation

The software giant has posted online another 14,000 pages of protocol documentation for its programs, bringing the total so far to 44,000

Microsoft has made public over 14,000 pages of preliminary technical documentation on the protocols built into its Office 2007, Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 products.

Announced on Tuesday, the move brings the total amount of protocol documentation now held on the MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) to over 44,000 pages. Microsoft describes its interoperability principles as a set of processes to ensure open connection routes to its high-volume products are clearly defined.

By hosting this information, Microsoft says developers, partners, customers and competitors can freely access preliminary versions of the documentation to examine the "connection points" between specified Microsoft products.

The latest release of information follows a high-profile announcement by the company in February when it committed to publish "all" details of application-programming interfaces for its high-volume products, listing its software patents that cover interoperability, and promising not to sue non-commercial implementations of its products.

Commentators were quick to point out that it's unlikely Microsoft opened up its specifications and made its pledges out of the goodness of its heart. Antitrust legislation in US and Europe played a large part and, as the open-source movement and its free-software predecessor have matured over more than two decades, Microsoft has found it necessary to make accommodations.

However, the company has only gone so far, according to some open-source specialists. Commenting in February, Jeremy Allison, a founder of the open-source Samba project that lets Linux servers substitute for Windows file and print servers by emulating the required Microsoft communication protocols, said: "The promise not to sue is only for 'non-commercial' open source, which is a bit meaningless."

According to Microsoft, the latest posting is relevant for all types of developers from independent software vendors to open-source specialists. The protocol documentation defines how these high-volume Microsoft products communicate with other products from the company itself as well as third-party software.

"We are very eager to receive feedback from members of the developer community as they access this documentation over the next weeks and months so we can use that feedback to improve our final documentation to be released in June," said Jean Paoli, general manager of interoperability and XML architecture at Microsoft.

The preliminary versions of this material form the first part of a three-phased approach Microsoft is taking to make the protocol information available. The second phase, which will run until June, will be the collection of input from the community as developers review the documentation and provide feedback. The third phase, which will occur by the end of June, will be the posting of the final versions of the documentation along with final patent-licensing terms.

As detailed in Microsoft's interoperability principles, all software developers will have access to this protocol documentation without having to sign a licence or pay a royalty fee. For those protocols that may be covered by a Microsoft patent, the company will make patent licences available at low royalty rates. However, open-source developers will not need a patent licence for the development of non-commercial implementations of these protocols.

CNET's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.