Microsoft Bows To The EU, Open Source Shrugs - InformationWeek

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10/23/2007
12:25 PM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Microsoft Bows To The EU, Open Source Shrugs

And so now Microsoft has conceded its antitrust case in the EU. So what does this mean for open source and Linux?  From what I can tell, it just means business as usual.

And so now Microsoft has conceded its antitrust case in the EU. So what does this mean for open source and Linux?  From what I can tell, it just means business as usual.

Some background: For three years, there's been a battle seething in the European Union about Microsoft not providing documentation about many of its key APIs -- its proprietary networking and file system protocols, mainly.  Rather than prolong the battle any further, Microsoft has decided to drop any further appeals and provide details about Windows's more proprietary bits for a one-time licensing fee of $10,000 per organization.

The biggest reason that comes to mind: most of the things that Microsoft is now making available are things which have already been reverse-engineered in great detail anyway.  The implementations of those reverse-engineered protocols have also grown to a substantial level of polish.  It's possible to mount NTFS volumes or connect to shared folders or printers on Windows systems without engendering a lot of hassle.  In some cases you don't even need to install much of anything; the packages needed for that kind of work are present by default in many current distributions (including the brand spanking new Ubuntu 7.10).

The Microsoft protocols are also things which, in the Linux world, are only used for the sake of cross-compatibility with existing Windows systems.  It's not as if most Linux users want to run NTFS on their systems, or use SMB to do file sharing.  Certainly not when they have their own native, homegrown solutions to those things (ext2/3, NFS/  CODA, etc.).  Here's a parallel: If someone has an existing library of CDs and installs Linux, odds are they're going to rip their music in .OGG format instead of the patent-encumbered .MP3.  Even though .MP3 is broadly supported in the Linux world, it's just one less thing to worry about.

The ruling also doesn't say much of anything about the very thorny issue of software patents in the EU.  Granted, the EU ruling wasn't designed to address such a thing to begin with, but it's still an open question -- and open-source advocates are worried that Microsoft may try to flex its muscles again and use the threat of patents to scare people away from open source.  I'm not sure they'll actually try a stunt like that now that SCO has been sent packing, but the fear is real.

The patent issue aside, there's not a lot that government sanction of Microsoft can do to them that hasn't already evolved spontaneously in other realms.  Open-source has already "routed around the damage," so to speak.  Microsoft has to figure out once and for all how it's going to deal with the fact that nothing can remain closed forever in a world this scrutinous and demanding.

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