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[Note: some of the claims made here may be out of date, but the principles remain valid.]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. Ruling Against 'Abstract' Software Patents is Already Derailing Patent Attacks on Linux and Free Software

    Patent litigation against Android/Linux impeded by the introduction of arguments that cite the Supreme Court



  2. Links 30/7/2014: Chris Beard as CEO of Mozilla

    Links for the day



  3. New Optimism in the Age of Doubt Over Software Patents

    As the tide turns against software patents, even in their country of origin, their opponents come out of the woodwork to celebrate



  4. Links 28/7/2014: New Linux RC, Plasma 5 Live in Kubuntu

    Links for the day



  5. Links 27/7/2014: KDE 4.14 Beta 3, KDE 4.14 Beta 3 Released

    Links for the day



  6. Apple and Microsoft Are Proprietary Software Companies and the Media Should Stop Openwashing Them

    New examples where proprietary software giants are characterised as FOSS-embracing and FOSS-friendly by gullible or dishonest 'journalists'



  7. Bloomberg's Microsoft Propaganda

    Bloomberg delivers 'damage control' and PR ahead of the layoffs announcement; Microsoft uses Nokia to hide it and Bloomberg helps Microsoft by radically modifying headlines



  8. Frequency of Browser Back Doors in Microsoft Windows is Doubling

    The vulnerabilities which Microsoft tells the NSA about (before these are patched) are significantly growing in terms of their numbers



  9. FUD Entities Entering the FOSS World

    Symantec enters the AllSeen Alliance and Sonatype is once again trying to claim great insecurity in FOSS due to software licensing



  10. Groklaw Back in the Wake of ODF in the UK?





  11. Links 26/7/2014: New Wine, Chromebooks Strong Sales

    Links for the day



  12. Links 25/7/2014: GOG With GNU/Linux, Ubuntu 14.04.1 LTS

    Links for the day



  13. Links 24/7/2014: Oracle Linux 7; Fedora Delays

    Links for the day



  14. Valerie Strauss Explains Why Gates Foundation's Lobbying for 'Common Core' (Privatisation) is a Swindle That Makes Microsoft Richer

    Continued criticism of the Gates Foundation's lobbying and masquerading, with more journalists brave enough to highlight the corruption



  15. USPTO Officially Sets New Guidelines to Limit Scope of Software Patents in the United States

    Even patent lawyers finally acknowledge that the incentive to file software patent applications has been reduced, as the scope of patents on software has been noticeably narrowed and they are harder to acquire, let alone enforce in a courtroom



  16. UK Government Adopts OpenDocument Format (ODF) and Microsoft Already Attacks the Government Over It, Showing Absolutely No Commitment to Open Standards

    Only "Microsoft as the standard" is the 'standard' Microsoft is willing to accept, as its response to the Cabinet Office's judgment reveals



  17. Microsoft Layoffs of 2014

    Another quick look at Microsoft's horrible state of affairs and why it has virtually nothing to do with Nokia



  18. Links 22/7/2014: Linux 3.16 RC 6, New UberStudent

    Links for the day



  19. Links 20/7/2014: Jolla in India, Mega Censored in Italy

    Links for the day



  20. Longtime Mono Booster Joins Microsoft-linked Xamarin

    Jo Shields almost joins Microsoft, settling instead for its proxy, Xamarin



  21. Linux Foundation Welcomes Patent Aggressor Red Bend Software

    The Linux Foundation's AllSeen Alliance welcomes as a member a company that uses software patents to sue Free/Open Source software



  22. Matt Levy From Patent Progress (and CCIA) Does Not Really Want Patent Progress

    Matthew ('Matt') Levy moved into a foe of patent progress last year, but he still runs a site calls Patent Progress, in which he diverts all attention to patent trolls (as large corporations such as Microsoft like to do)



  23. Attacking FOSS by Ignoring/Overlooking Issues With Proprietary Software

    The biasing strategy which continues to be used to demonise Free/Open Source software (FOSS) along with some new examples



  24. Links 19/7/2014: CRUX 3.1 is Out, CyanogenMod Competes With Google Now

    Links for the day



  25. Microsoft's Massive Layoffs Go Far Beyond Nokia; Nokia's Android Phones Axed by Microsoft's Elop

    Microsoft's rapid demise and permanent exit from Nokia's last remaining Linux platform (after Microsoft had killed two more)



  26. Patents on Software Already Being Invalidated in Courts Owing to SCOTUS Ruling on 'Abstract' Patents

    The Federal Circuit Appeals Court has just "invalidated a software patent for being overly abstract," says a patents expert



  27. OpenSUSE 'Community' is Crumbling, AttachMSFT Killed SUSE's Potential (Except as Microsoft Tax)

    Not much too see in the land of SUSE and Attachmate, or formerly the company known as Novell



  28. Links 18/7/2014: Slackware Turns 21, Spotify Switches to Ubuntu

    Links for the day



  29. Links 16/7/2014: Manjaro 0.8.10 Third Update, SIA Migrates to Red Hat

    Links for the day



  30. Microsoft's Latest Round of Massive/Bulk/Large-scale Layoffs

    Microsoft boosters are preparing 'damage control' pieces ahead of massive layoffs at Microsoft


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