EditorsAbout the SiteComes vs. MicrosoftUsing This Web SiteSite ArchivesCredibility IndexOOXMLOpenDocumentPatentsNovellNews DigestSite NewsRSS

10.13.08

Microsoft’s Attitude Towards Interoperability Versus Standards — One Year Later

Posted in Interoperability, Microsoft, Samba, Servers, Standard at 8:17 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

[Note: some of the claims made here may be out of date, but the principles remain valid.]

Interoperability” has become a weasel word. The word is regularly used to insinuate that two (or more) computer systems should work very well, but they usually work well for the wrong reasons. The method adopted to make these systems work is flawed. This approach monetizes something that should be free and something which typically requires no research and development whatsoever. It is an unfortunate case where the role of standards is being ignored and replaced.

When discussing interoperability between products, restrictive conditions such as patents and licensing agreements are often kept out of sight. In a similar fashion, when discussing software patents, their controversial nature is typically concealed under an ‘umbrella’ called “intellectual property”. This leads to unnecessary confusion and has software patents honored in countries where such patents are fundamentally against the law.

Eyes on Europe

EU and Polish flagA couple of months ago in Europe, an agreement was announced between the European Commission, spearheaded by Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes, and Microsoft, which had just lost its antitrust appeal. The agreement embraced a route to further saturation in the server market, but rather than insisting on the use of standards, it seems to have drifted in another direction, which involved interoperability rather than open standards.

But Wait! What About Samba and the GNU GPL?

The agreement in Europe might stifle competition rather than spur any. It does not appeal to Free software developers and it is intrinsically incompatible with the most widely used software license in the world (GNU General Public License). This essentially leaves out in the cold what Microsoft has considered its #1 threat for many years.

“With the European Commission’s agreement, a great concern arises.”
The Samba project, which is GPL-licensed, enables several operating systems to interact with Microsoft Windows. Windows is ubiquitous, so this is essential. Protocols for file and printer sharing, for instance, are very prevalent in a form that designed by Microsoft many years ago. None of this design was standardized or published openly, so reverse-engineering work was needed to bridge a critical gap. This made Free software, such as GNU/Linux, more viable in the enterprise.

With the European Commission’s agreement, a great concern arises. Suddenly, reverse-engineering endeavours that so many people rely on can be made subjected to the wrath of software patents (and thus royalties). Ironically enough, Europe itself does not honor software patents, yet it seems to have blindly accepted what Microsoft insists on. There is a great danger here — the danger of letting standards be neglected and crucial consensus be decentralized.

Let us look at the importance of standards and then return to the issue at hand. This issue is unlikely to go away unless the European Commission changes its mind and its decision, thereby acknowledging its misunderstandings.

Why Are Standards Important?

In a world where diverse mixtures of technologies exist, products need to communicate. They need to interact with one another in order to handle complex tasks and for users to achieve their goals. The consensus has usually been that in order for products to communicate, industry leaders and field experts should convene and agree on a set of rules. They should agree on a single uniform method (or a set thereof) that will enable products to cooperate with one another. This is what standards are all about.

“By adhering to standards, communication with other products can be assured. ”Companies have plenty or reasons to like standards. Universal standards make development much easier and they facilitate integration with other technologies. By adhering to standards, communication with other products can be assured. Rather than test and design ‘bridges’ (or ‘translators’, or lossy ‘converters’) for each pair or products, design can be matched to a written, publically-available and static standard. It makes life easier for both software development companies and companies that consume technology, i.e. those that actually use the products and whose requirements matter the most.

What happens, however, when one company deviates from the standard in pursuit of more control? Capitalization is dependent upon the ability to show that something unique is being offered. Standards, nevertheless, are about uniformity, not about being unique. Therefore, companies that want a greater level of control over customers are more likely to ignore standards, but the situation is not quite so simple.

In order to ignore a standard, it takes a lot of aggression. It also requires a market share large enough to abolish or at least fight against the standard, which is backed by many parties, not one. With monopoly control, standards are pretty much defined by the monopolist. They can be changed and extended at any time without causing much interference. However, such use of power can also push rival companies off the cliff. At the end of the day, this hurts consumers who are left without choice and have little control over pricing and upgrade pace.

The Symbiotic Relationship Between Standards and Openness

Free open source software enjoys a good resemblance to the notion of free and open standards. Both are available for viewing and they encourage participation. Free open source software tends to embrace standards for a plethora or reasons. Proprietary software, on the other hand, does not expose its underlying behaviour. Quite often, its value lies in behaviour that is hidden. The software protects (in the ownership sense) certain knowledge, so transparency is neither an option nor a priority.

Standards play a role in prevention of vendor lock-in. They facilitate choice and they encourage greater diversity in the market. Adversity to standards is not only motivated by financial value that can be found in restriction on choice, i.e. imprisoning the customer. It is also motivated by the ability to extract revenue directly from competitors. That is where software patents and so-called “intellectual monopolies” serve as a dangerous new element to keep on eye on. They have become a curious phenomenon in the software world because they are fearsome to many and beneficial to very few.

Patents Meet Free Standards and Free Software

In Europe, Microsoft has essentially managed to collect a trophy for snubbing standards all these years. Its lawyers turned a loss in the court into a small victory. In an antitrust exhibit extracted from the previous decade, Microsoft revealed its intent to ignore standardization bodies at all costs.

“In an antitrust exhibit extracted from the previous decade, Microsoft revealed its intent to ignore standardization bodies at all costs.”
“We are large enough that this can work,” an internal document from Microsoft stated. This was said after the following eye-opening statement: “We [Microsoft] want to own these standards, so we should not participate in standards groups.” From the Halloween Documents, whose existence and authenticity was confirmed last year, it is revealed that Microsoft planned to “innovate above standard protocols” to deny entry of Free open source software projects into the market.

Having made a de facto standard so common and having defended its existence, all Microsoft needed was a reservation of rights to demand payments from competitors. Samba distributors and users are arguably bound by a promise which the European Commission specifies in its agreement with Microsoft. Other than the cost of obtaining documentation, there are patent royalties to be considered.

Reflections and Ways to Proceed

The decision which was made by the European Commission seems to have been a poor one. For starters, interoperability was chosen as the route to compliance, all at the expense of open standards. Moreover, based on the Commission’s own assessment, an interoperability route was needed merely because “trivial and pointless” extensions were added on top of existing standards, in order to stifle adoption of competing products. The Commission’s accusations and blame align poorly with its decision, which is discriminatory — if not exclusionary at best — towards Free open source software.

In conclusion, one must remember that open standards must never be conceded and replaced by a void promise of interoperability, which is incompatible with everything that standards and Free open source software stand for. Numerous parties have therefore protested and have already urged the European Commission to reconsider and revise its decision.

Originally published in Datamation in 2007

Share this post: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Reddit
  • co.mments
  • DZone
  • email
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • NewsVine
  • Print
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis
  • Facebook

If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the RSS feed or join us now at the IRC channels.

Pages that cross-reference this one

What Else is New


  1. Links 25/4/2015: Debian LTS Plans, Turing Phone Runs Linux

    Links for the day



  2. Who Kills Yahoo? It's Microsoft, Not Yahoo!

    The media should blame Microsoft, not Marissa Mayer, for what's going on (and has been going on for 7 years) at Yahoo!



  3. EPO Management is Trying Hard to Appease Its Critics While Pushing Forth Unitary Patent Agenda

    The European Patent Office and European Commission promote the agenda of large multinational corporations (at the expense or European citizens) and critics are being kept at bay



  4. Real Patent Reform Will Not Come From Biggest Backers of GNU/Linux, Not Even Google

    A look at the 'new' Google, the company which is hoarding patents (2,566 last year alone) instead of fighting for reform



  5. Microsoft's Troll Intellectual Ventures Loses Software Patents

    Intellectual Ventures is bluffing with software patents, but this time around it doesn't get its way



  6. Links 24/4/2015: Ubuntu and Variants in the News, Red Hat Developer Toolset 3.1

    Links for the day



  7. Links 23/4/2015: Ubuntu 15.04 is Out, Debian 8.0 Out Very Soon

    Links for the day



  8. Links 22/4/2015: Fedora 22 Beta, Atlassian Acquires BlueJimp

    Links for the day



  9. The Dying Debate Over Patent Scope (Including Software Patents) Replaced by 'Trolls' (But Not the Biggest Ones)

    The corporate media and Web sites or people who are funded by large corporations have essentially suppressed any debate about issues in the patent granting process, thereby guarding software patents and preventing criticism of large corporations' power grab



  10. The Patents Gold Rush Continues

    The morbid obsession with monopolising mere ideas still dominates the media, even increasingly in China



  11. 9 Millionth US Patent Tells a Story of Failure and USPTO Misconduct

    The USPTO, much like FISA (notorious court for surveillance/espionage authorisation), has become a rubber-stamping operation rather than a patents examination centre, as new evidence and old evidence serve to show



  12. HBO Helps Shift Debate Over Patents to 'Trolls' (Scale), Not Scope

    More of that awkward shifting of the patent debate towards small actors who are misusing patents, not large conglomerates like Apple and Microsoft which use patents to destroy competitors, crush startups, drive up prices, and so on



  13. Software Patents Are Still Menacing to Free Software: OIN Expands Scope, HEVC Adds to MPEG-LA Burden/Tax, Google and Facebook Give in on Patents

    A look at recent news about software patents and especially Free/libre software, which is inherently incompatible with them



  14. The Latest Developments Around Microsoft's Clever Attack on Android/Linux

    Microsoft's campaign of destruction, extortion, etc. against the most widely used Linux-powered operating system is revisited in light of new reports



  15. The Microsoft 'Community' is Maligning the Free Software Community

    Dishonest generalisations and baseless deductions portray the Free/Open Source software communities as a nasty place that leads to poverty and despair



  16. Googlebombing 'Microsoft Open Source' Even When Microsoft Shuts Down Its 'Open Source' Proxy

    A massive failure by the press to cover the most basic news, which is Microsoft putting an end to a supposedly 'Open Source' effort



  17. Links 22/4/2015: Calculate Linux 14.16, SparkyLinux 4.0 RC KDE

    Links for the day



  18. Links 21/4/2015: Project Photon, Ubuntu Touch Buzz

    Links for the day



  19. Embrace, Extend, Extinguish: How Microsoft Plans to Get Rid of Linux/Android

    Microsoft's sheer abuse against Android is laying bare for everyone to see now that Microsoft has paralysed Google's legal department with potential antitrust action in Europe



  20. Yahoo's Current CEO (Mayer, Formerly of Google) is Trying to End Yahoo! Status as Microsoft Proxy

    There are signs of relinquishing Microsoft's control over Yahoo! after Marissa Mayer worked to end the company's suicidal/abusive relationship with Steve Ballmer's Microsoft



  21. Repeating Microsoft's Lies Without Any Journalistic Assessment

    Poor fact-checking by relatively large media/news sites results in Microsoft's patently false claims being repeated uncritically



  22. Links 19/4/2015: New KaOS (2015.04), Manjaro Linux 0.8.13 Pre1

    Links for the day



  23. Links 18/4/2015: ExTiX 15.2, RaspArch

    Links for the day



  24. Microsoft Tired of Pretending to be Nice to Free/Open Source Software (FOSS), Microsoft 'Open' Technologies Dumped

    Microsoft dumps its proxy (misleadingly named 'Open Tech') and other attacks on Free software persist from the inside, often through so-called 'experts' whose agenda is to sell proprietary software



  25. More Translations of French Article About the EPO

    German and Dutch translations of the Le Monde article are now available



  26. Links 17/4/2015: Wipro and the Netherlands Want FOSS

    Links for the day



  27. Microsoft's Multi-Dimensional Assault on Android/Linux: Extortion, Lobbying of Regulators, and Bribes

    Microsoft's vicious war on Linux (and Android in its current incarnation) takes more sophisticated -- albeit illegal (as per the RICO Act) -- forms



  28. Microsoft's Plot to Associate Windows with 'Open Source' is Proving Effective, Despite Being Just a Big Lie

    A look at the latest headlines which can lead to a false perception that Microsoft is now in bed with 'Open Source'



  29. Microsoft Windows Remotely Crashed, Remotely Hijacked, But Still No Logo and No Branding for the Bugs

    Windows maintains its reputation as a back doors haven, but the media is still not highlighting the severity of this issue, instead focusing on accidental bugs in Free software, even very old (and already fixed) bugs



  30. Black Duck's Latest Self-Promotional Propaganda (for Proprietary Software) Still Fools Journalists

    Under the traditionally misleading title "Future of Open Source" Black Duck expresses its desire for proprietary software sales, salivating over fearful managers who may get bamboozled into buying the patents-'protected' Black Duck 'product'


CoPilotCo

RSS 64x64RSS Feed: subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates

Home iconSite Wiki: You can improve this site by helping the extension of the site's content

Home iconSite Home: Background about the site and some key features in the front page

Chat iconIRC Channel: Come and chat with us in real time

CoPilotCo

Recent Posts