Open specification promise is true: Microsoft

Microsoft has struck out at the Software Freedom Law Centre's (SFLC) claims that its Open Specification Promise is not as open as it should be.
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

Microsoft has struck out at the Software Freedom Law Centre's (SFLC) claims that its Open Specification Promise is not as open as it should be.


The SFLC published a legal analysis of Microsoft's Open Specification Promise (OSP), a document written to give developers the green light to make open source products based on specifications written by Microsoft.

One of the SFLC's conclusions was that Microsoft's patent protections only apply to current versions of the specifications and doesn't guarantee the protections will apply to future releases.

Microsoft said, however, its new interoperability principles operate across its high-volume products: Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007 and Office SharePoint Server "as well as future versions".

"Under this announcement, Microsoft is committing to make available ALL of the APIs in all of its high-volume products that are used by other Microsoft products, and to make them available for free on the Web through MSDN [Microsoft's developer network]," the spokesperson said.

"This means that developers will be assured that they have the same APIs available to them that Microsoft's other products use. Microsoft will follow this principle on an ongoing basis by incorporating this requirement into its product release cycles," the spokesperson continued.

Another problem with the Open Specification Promise, according to the SLFC, is that it is not consistent with the General Public License (GPL), which requires that any derived works also be open.

Microsoft product manager Gray Knowlton responded to the allegations in his blog.

"As far as we are concerned we are happy to extend the OSP to implementers who distribute their code under any copyright license including the GPL. The [Open Specification Promise] FAQ just states what everyone knows and acknowledges, the GPL is a copyright licence that is drafted in a way that leaves many issues (not just those related to patent rights) open to many interpretations. Any particular user or implementer should read the GPL carefully and make their own judegment about what it means and requires in accordance with their own circumstances. The FAQ states that Microsoft is not in a position to give blanket advice about the GPL to others," he writes.

The last concern raised by the Centre was that code based on a Microsoft specification is only covered by the promise for some specific uses.

Knowlton says this is false. "The OSP is a promise to not assert patents that are necessarily infringed by implementations of covered specifications. Like all similar patent non-asserts (including the Sun and IBM versions for ODF) the promise covers that part of a product that implements that specification (and not other parts that have nothing to do with the specification).

"While the Sun covenant is silent about conformance to the specification, the OSP allows implementers the freedom to implement any (or all) parts of a covered specification and to the extent they do implement those portions (also known as conform to those parts) they are covered by the promise for those parts. Contrast that to the IBM pledge that requires total conformance and so programming errors or absence of something required by the spec (but not by an implementer's product) means that the promise is totally void for that product."

Microsoft is being over-cautious according to IBRS advisor Joseph Sweeney, trying to get its tools out to developers so it can benefit from their work, but making sure it doesn't give its patents away as a result. Meanwhile, Sweeney said, no matter how much the firm clarifies the promise, there will always be someone in the open source community saying "but what about ... ?"

The IBRS advisor said the only situation where a conflict could arise would be between Microsoft and a major open source company -- not likely in itself, Sweeney said, unless a significant event occurred, such as major market share loss.

"If you're developing within that space, there's not really much risk," he said, adding: "In the short term [Microsoft] doesn't feel as if it's threatened by the open source community."

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