Hounded by EU, Microsoft to License Part of Source Code

Microsoft announced Wednesday that it would license source code in the Windows Server operating system, in order to comply with a 2004 ruling from European Union regulators. The action should allow Microsoft to sidestep the threat of steep fines—up to 2 million Euros per day—while the company prepares to argue its case to a European appeals court in April.

Microsoft Chief Counsel Brad Smith, speaking at a press conference in Brussels, characterized the action as "a bold stroke." But Michael Cherry, senior analyst at Directions on Microsoft, isn't so sure. He says Microsoft has been licensing source code to major enterprise software vendors for years, through initiatives like the System Integrator Source Licensing program. He also wonders how valuable the code will be to other companies.

"Walking through other people's source code can suck up a considerable amount of time. I think a lot of integrators would look at it as a troubleshooting tool of last resort," Cherry says of the source code. "It's like this huge vortex you can get sucked into and can never get out of."

The original EU ruling demanded that Microsoft offer two remedies: Deliver a version of Windows without Windows Media Player, and provide detailed documentation of the communication protocols used to link Windows Server with client systems and software. Microsoft tooled a version of Windows—known as Windows XP N—to meet the first requirement. But the company's efforts to deliver documented interfaces fell short of regulator approval, drawing the threat of fines. Wednesday's announcement should dispel that concern.

“We have now come to the conclusion that the only way to be certain of satisfying the Commission’s demands is to go beyond the 2004 Decision and offer a license to the source code of the Windows server operating system,” Smith states in a press release. “While we are confident that we are presently in full compliance with the Decision we wish to dispel any notion that Microsoft’s technical documents are insufficient.”

Matt Rosoff, who covers legal affairs at Directions on Microsoft, says licensing the code makes good sense. The step puts Microsoft firmly in compliance while the company fights the battle that really matters—the appeal of the 2004 ruling that required Microsoft to alter its Windows operating system for sale in Europe.

"Microsoft doesn't want a precedent to be set that dictates what they can and can't put into Windows," Rosoff says.

Cherry argues that the Microsoft move could be bad news for software developers hoping to integrate more effectively with Windows Server. "I think if you develop a product that works with the operating system, you are much better off working with the publicly documented APIs and interfaces."

Will Microsoft's decision have any bearing on the company's effort to have the 2004 decision overturned? Rosoff isn't willing to make a bet either way.

"It's really tough. Every time I try to guess what the legal system will do, it's like flipping a coin," Rosoff says. "We'll just have to sort of see what happens here."

About the Author

Michael Desmond is an editor and writer for 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.


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