Source code is not the right protocol

Microsoft's offer of source code may seem generous, but it's just not what the EC - or developers - want

On the face of it, Microsoft looks like it is being reasonable to the point of generosity in its offer to reveal Windows server source code to those who license its server interoperability protocols.

Behind the thin veil of contrition however, the offer looks decidedly fishy. The obvious problem with the offer, made by way of sweetening the European Commission, is that once you've seen the source code it becomes very difficult to prove, should you ever be called upon to do so, that the source code you are writing does not infringe on Microsoft's copyright. After all, if you're writing code to interface with specific APIs, very similar algorithms are likely to be required on both sides of the interface. There are only so many ways to code an algorithm.

We are basically talking reverse engineering here, and the one, universally accepted rule of reverse engineering is that you need to be able to prove that you have never seen the source code of the program you are trying to reverse engineer. Companies go to great lengths to assure themselves that this is the case.

The last thing anybody wants is to see the source code. This attempted (and, we must hope, doomed) strategy from Microsoft adds to the company's cynical and blatant moves to shut out open source software from the interoperability licence.

Source code is simply not necessary to write code to work with an API or protocol. All that's needed is proper specifications. Microsoft knows this, its general counsel Brad Smith knows that, developers know this and it looks like the EC knows this too. Source code is not only superfluous to interoperability, but in this case it could be a liability to those companies who take the bait.

The fact that Microsoft has offered to make its Windows server source code available only to people licensing its server interoperability protocols makes the whole thing only smell worse. Not everyone will see, just people signing up to Microsoft's already dubious licensing scheme.

Microsoft would do well to read between the lines of the EC's statement. "We're looking forward to Microsoft responding to our Statement of Objectives by the deadline" looks like code for "stop larking around and do what you were told." Perhaps, just this once, Microsoft should accept that this is one battle it should let slip.