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Napera CEO: Microsoft's New Openness Worked for Us

Not everybody is convinced that Microsoft's new commitment to openness is legitimate, but it's good enough for Todd Hooper, CEO of a startup called Napera Networks.

"I think they've bought into it," Hooper told RCPU in a phone chat recently. "I don't think it's a smokescreen or anything like that. They started working on this stuff in 2006, and they were anticipating what was to come."

What was to come, of course, were massive fines from the European Union, which rebuked Microsoft for charging too much for server protocol licenses and basically carped that the software giant was making it too hard for other vendors' wares to work with Microsoft's stuff. Microsoft lost a court appeal in September and had to pony up for fines levied years ago. Then, in February, to coincide with Microsoft's big server launch, the EU dropped another punitive bomb on the company.

So, what does Hooper have to do with all of this? Well, his company sells an appliance that sits on the edge of a network, monitoring network health and letting businesses know just who's using their networks. The new tool is based on Microsoft's Network Access Protection architecture (hence the "Nap" in Napera) and, Hooper said, can actually eliminate the need to deploy Windows Server 2008 -- although the appliance also works with the new server. Thus far, that hasn't been a problem for Microsoft, Hooper said.

"The support from Microsoft has been great," he said. "It's possible that a customer could buy our product and not buy Windows Server 2008, which obviously could hit their bottom line but we've never heard anything from them about that."

More to the point, the Napera appliance uses two protocols, DHCP and 8021x, to communicate with Microsoft technologies. Before the EU's first fine came down via the September court decision, royalty fees were heavy for protocols such as those, Hooper said. But "the royalty numbers dropped dramatically after the EU decision in September," Hooper said. "This year, [Microsoft has] gone even further by taking out the trade secret license and making a patent license."

That means that Napera has access to protocols much more cheaply and easily than it did before. And for Hooper and Napera, that's been a big boost.

"It's a big deal that Microsoft offers this sort of thing at all," Hooper said. And it hasn't been all about the EU, either. "You could tell from 2007 that they were in the process of change, culminating in the changes in September-October. The last couple of years, there's been a radical change in their attitude. Microsoft has made it pretty easy to do the right thing."

You might think, then, that Hooper is a big fan of the EU and its oversight. Actually, not really, as he writes in his blog on the company's Web site. Yes, some of Microsoft's policy changes have helped his company, but Hooper believes that the latest round of EU fines -- levied conveniently on a huge launch day for Microsoft -- went too far.

"I was very cynical about it -- I was hugely cynical," Hooper said of the EU's late-February bombshell. "The customer is ultimately paying Microsoft's fines. The fact is, Microsoft has a large number of software patents. If you're commercially implementing something Microsoft has a patent on, you could argue that the right thing to do is pay a patent fee."

And then, Hooper, in our favorite part of the interview, started to sound like a rant from RCPU when discussing the EU's pursuit of Microsoft: "Where does that path end? Does it end with giving everything for free? That's an issue of national sovereignty. I'm not really understanding why there's continuing friction [between Microsoft and the EU]. I don't see big European companies giving away patent licenses for free. They tend to be as bad as or worse than Microsoft. It's starting to feel a lot like [the EU is] trying to take Microsoft down a few pegs."

Yes, Todd Hooper, it is. And you're proof that it's not just folks inside the walls of Redmond who are defending Microsoft's openness.

How convinced are you by Microsoft's new openness? Let us know at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 03/18/2008 at 1:21 PM


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