Following widespread scepticism of Microsoft's motives for developing its trusted computing platform, the software giant this week moved to reassure the software community that Palladium will not be limited to Microsoft's platforms.
Although Microsoft has said it will publish the source code for Palladium, free software and open-source advocates are concerned that licence terms will prevent non-proprietary software from using the application programming interfaces.
Speaking to ZDNet UK, Microsoft Palladium group product manager Mario Juarez said it is still too soon to say what licence will be used for Palladium interfaces, but indicated that it would not necessarily be as restrictive as past examples. "We do realise that we are an important company and that we have a responsibility to the industry. The goal is for as many people as possible to be able to take advantage of what we are talking about here. We are not trying to drive this as a Microsoft-only initiative."
Juarez was responding to criticisms that the Palladium initiative is in part designed to lock out other platforms -- in particular Linux and other open-source and free software operating systems. Juarez admitted that Microsoft's track record of making its platform hooks -- or application programming interfaces -- available to third parties had created a suspicion in the open-source community.
In late March, Microsoft published a document that outlined how third-party developers can use Common Internet File Sharing (CIFS), a protocol developed by Microsoft that specifies how Windows PCs share files with servers. Although publishing the document should have made it easier to write software that incorporates CIFS, it contained a crucial restriction that prohibits using information in the document to build software governed by the General Public License (GPL).
Some believe that any licence connected to Palladium will follow a similar route. "People are right to be suspicious," said Juarez. But, he said, "it puts us in a difficult position having to say we don't have all the answers yet because that invites speculation and suspicion, but to say we have all the answers would bring other concerns."
Despite the platitudes, Juarez did add a caveat. "We are talking about Microsoft intellectual property and we will take steps to make sure this is not plundered," he added. The main consideration for Microsoft, said Juarez, will be integrity (of the Palladium software), and while it may be possible to achieve this through a consortium, Microsoft will not pursue such a path if it feels that integrity is being compromised. "The technology we build has to be truly good technology that has integrity. That is where we will make our stand. We will not sacrifice integrity of the Palladium platform," he said.
The acknowledgement that development of a trusted platform such as Palladium must be handled carefully comes just a few years after Intel fumbled the introduction of the unique processor ID into its chips. Juarez said that such considerations are the reason that Microsoft is revealing rough plans for Palladium before the details are worked out -- although some in the industry believe that Microsoft only hurriedly rushed out what it had on the technology after learning that Newsweek said it was planning to break an embargo.
"We do have white papers and other materials in the queue," said Juarez. "We are in the phase of articulating a vision; one of the things we know goes wrong is that we go a long way down the road and then people ask why did we make those decisions. Equally, there is a risk we incur by going out early, but hopefully we can get people to challenge us and make us think in new ways."
Juarez said that it to build dialogue that Microsoft started releasing information on Palladium so early in the process. "We only have one choice and that is to do it right. If we don't it won't work. That's why we're going out early."