Microsoft ups the ante with the E.C.

Macehiter Ward-Dutton –

On the day of the deadline originally imposed (Microsoft received a one month extension yesterday) in December's Statement of Objections from the European Commission concerning the usefulness of the technical documentation Microsoft had provided to help licensees of its Work Group Server Protocol Program (WSPP), the company announced that it is releasing the source code for Windows Server 2003 SP1 - Windows Server R2 is to be made available within a month - to licensees of the WSPP (in much the same way that the company has released source code to governments and other key customers under the Shared Source Initiative).

The announcement does not mean that Microsoft is open sourcing Windows. Rather, the company is making the code available under a reference license, allowing WSPP licensees to study and refer to the code in order to understand how the protocols covered in the 12,000 pages of documentation already released by Microsoft have been implemented. As Brad Smith, Microsoft's General Council put it, "The Windows Source code is the ultimate documentation of Windows Server technologies ... the DNA of the operating system". The fact that the source code is for reference purposes only is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the code will only be accessible via Microsoft's Code Center Premium (CCP), which provides smart-card-protected web based, read-only access to the source code. There is no offline use. The licensing of the source code also does not signal a change as far as Microsoft's view of distribution of its source code alongside open source products - it continues to emphasise a hybrid model - nor of its belief that the File & Print and User and Group Administration protocols which are at the heart of the EC's demands contain valuable intellectual property and innovation which warrants the royalties associated with WSPP.

In making this announcement Microsoft is clearly attempting to draw a line under the issue of documentation and focus, as Smith put it, on the "substance of the case" - not least because the European Court of First Instance will be hearing Microsoft's appeal against the EC's March 2004 decision in less than 3 months (April 24-28). Microsoft clearly believes, as Smith was at pains to point out, that things have moved on since the March 2004 decision and that the company is in a stronger position than two years. He noted the total lack of interest from consumers and OEMs alike in the Windows Media-less Windows XPN and pointed to the success of Apple with the iPod and iTunes as an indicator of the health of the competitive environment.

By going public with the announcement on the same day that it informed the Commission of its decision to do so, Microsoft is also making a point that it was dissatisfied with the EC's very public Statement of Objections in December.

Ultimately, then, I don't think this changes this as fundamentally as a headline "Microsoft Goes Beyond EU Decision by Offering Windows Source Code" would suggest. Rather, this is Microsoft upping the ante to eliminate the issue of documentation which it clearly believes is a minor irritant in the larger scheme of things - and it has nothing to do with the threat of 2 million Euro per day fines. The core issues of licensing of its intellectual property, particularly by the open source community, remain and will be the subject of continuing fervant debate with the EC, the Court of First Instance and more broadly.

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