Eight years ago the U.S. regulatory authorities, and four years ago the European regulators made clear to Microsoft that its refusal to disclose interface information for its monopoly software products violates the law. So, it is hardly surprising to see even Microsoft state today that “interoperability across systems is an important requirement” and announce a “change in [its] approach to interoperability.” Of course, we’ve heard similar announcements before, almost always strategically timed for other effect. Red Hat regards this most recent announcement with a healthy dose of skepticism. Three commitments by Microsoft would show that it really means what it is announcing today:
- Commit to open standards: Rather than pushing forward its proprietary, Windows-based formats for document processing, OOXML, Microsoft should embrace the existing ISO-approved, cross-platform industry standard for document processing, Open Document Format (ODF) at the International Standards Organization’s meeting next week in Geneva. Microsoft, please demonstrate implementation of an existing international open standard now rather than make press announcements about intentions of future standards support.
- Commit to interoperability with open source: Instead of offering a patent license for its protocol information on the basis of licensing arrangements it knows are incompatible with the GPL – the world’s most widely used open source software license – Microsoft should extend its Open Specification Promise to all of the interoperability information that it is announcing today will be made available. The Open Specification Promise already covers many Microsoft products that do not have monopoly market positions. If Microsoft were truly committed to fostering openness and preventing customer lock-in, it would extend this promise to the protocol and interface information it intends to disclose today. There is no explanation for refusing to extend the Open Specification Promise to “high-volume” products, other than a continued intention on Microsoft’s part to lock customers into its monopoly products, and lock out competitors through patent threats.
- Commit to competition on a level playing field: Microsoft’s announcement today appears carefully crafted to foreclose competition from the open source community. How else can you explain a “promise not to sue open source developers” as long as they develop and distribute only*/ “non-commercial” implementations of interoperable products? This is simply disingenuous. The only hope for reintroducing competition to the monopoly markets Microsoft now controls – Windows, Office, etc. – is through commercial distributions of competitive open source software products.