Microsoft's antitrust concessions are 'pointless'

The information that Microsoft conceded to offer royalty free in its server interoperability licence is already publicly available, according to a company evaluating the agreement

A firm involved in the market testing of Microsoft's server interoperability licence on Wednesday criticised the royalty-free concessions the software giant made in its final offer to the EU.

Microsoft filed its final attempt to comply with last year's anti-trust ruling at the end of May. The European Commission (EC) said a week later that Microsoft had agreed to provide some of the interoperability information royalty-free as it is "not the result of innovation".

But a German open source consultancy that has been involved in the EC's market test of Microsoft's final antitrust offering claims that these royalty-free concessions are pointless as the information is already available on the Internet, is incomplete and is in some cases incorrect.

Volker Lendecke, a consultant at SerNet, which offers services around the open source file and print server software Samba, claimed that the free information is "completely pointless". "It's stuff that you can find out using Google anyway," he said.

Lendecke added that as well as being publicly available, the information is insufficient to write an implementation of a workgroup server that is even partially interoperable with Microsoft software. "The information [provided in the royalty-free licence] available is incomplete, but Windows clients expect everything to be around for things to work."

For example, the royalty-free licence provides basic information on how a Microsoft server opens a file. But information on how to manage file privileges is not included under the royalty-free licence, which means that developers cannot write code that can open a file held on a Windows file server, unless they sign up to the royalty-bearing licence that contains information on file privilege protocols, said Lendecke.

Some of the information included under the royalty-free licence is incorrect, he said. "They have included some things that they don't implement," said Lendecke. For example, although the royalty-free licence provides some information on CIFS — a standard protocol for remote file access — Microsoft's server implementation is not fully CIFS compatible.

This is a known problem among the Samba team. For example, Samba claim that Microsoft has been granted patents around CIFS, but has not used these particular parts of the CIFS in their implementation.

"These patents cover an obsolete section of the CIFS/SMB protocol that Microsoft themselves have abandoned in their own products long ago. Microsoft abandoned these "raw" protocol operations in CIFS," states the Samba Web site.

Server interoperability information provided by Microsoft under royalty-bearing licences may contain useful information, but Samba is unable to sign up to these licences as it is a per-user fee.

"If the information that has a fee attached, you have to track the number of users. With free software you don't know how many users you have. Even if we would be willing to pay for a licence, we can't accept a per-seat licence," said Lendecke.

Carlo Piana, a partner at Milan law firm Tamos Piana & Partners, which represents the Free Software Foundation Europe and was also involved in the market test, agreed that this is a problem. "We could pay for something, but it should be a lump sum. It cannot be based on proprietary software model [where companies pay a per-user licence fee] as this is the opposite of our business model," said Piana.

Open source developers are also faced with the problem that they cannot publish the source code of products that have been written using Microsoft's licensed information.

The EC criticised Microsoft's original server interoperability licence for charging unjustifiably high royalty fees. These fees included a maximum royalty of $1,900 (£1,075) for users wishing to license Microsoft's file and print protocols. It charged extra for those wishing to license user and group administration protocols.

Lendecke said that the final interoperability licence charges slightly less, but is still not significantly cheaper — charging a maximum of $950 per server to license all of Microsoft's intellectual property.

A Microsoft spokesperson was unable to comment on the details of the Microsoft server interoperability licence. "The commission is currently market testing Microsoft's proposals and we'll await the outcome of this process," said a Microsoft spokesperson.

Piana from law firm Tamos Piana & Partners said the EC's deadline for the market testing was 1 July and he is expecting the results from the EC's analysis "any day". The EC was unable to comment in time for this article.