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[Note: some of the claims made here may be out of date, but the principles remain valid.]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 24/4/2017: Linux 4.11 RC8, MPV 0.25

    Links for the day



  2. Why Authorities in the Netherlands Need to Strip the EPO of Immunity and Investigate Fire Safety Violations

    How intimidation and crackdown on the staff representatives at the EPO may have led to lack of awareness (and action) about lack of compliance with fire safety standards



  3. Insensitivity at the EPO’s Management – Part IX: Testament to the Fear of an Autocratic Regime

    A return to the crucial observation and a reminder of the fact that at the EPO it takes great courage to say the truth nowadays



  4. For the Fordham Echo Chamber (Patent Maximalism), Judges From the EPO Boards of Appeal Are Not Worth Entertaining

    In an event steered if not stuffed by patent radicals such as Bristows and Microsoft (abusive, serial litigators) there are no balanced panels or even reasonable discussions



  5. EPO Staff Representatives Fired Using “Disciplinary Committee That Was Improperly Composed” as Per ILO's Decision

    The Board of the Administrative Council at European Patent Organisation is being informed of the union-busting activities of Battistelli -- activities that are both illegal (as per national and international standards) and are detrimental to the Organisation



  6. Links 23/4/2017: End of arkOS, Collabora Office 5.3 Released

    Links for the day



  7. Intellectual Discovery and Microsoft Feed Patent Trolls Like Intellectual Ventures Which Then Strategically Attack Rivals

    Like a swarm of blood-sucking bats, patent trolls prey on affluent companies that derive their wealth from GNU/Linux and freedom-respecting software (Free/libre software)



  8. The European Patent Office Has Just Killed a Cat (or Skinned a 'Kat')

    The EPO’s attack on the media, including us, resulted in a stream of misinformation and puff pieces about the EPO and UPC, putting at risk not just European democracy but also corrupting the European press



  9. Yann Ménière Resorts to Buzzwords to Recklessly Promote Floods of Patents, Dooming the EPO Amid Decline in Patent Applications

    Battistelli's French Chief Economist is not much of an economist but a patent maximalist toeing the party line of Monsieur Battistelli (lots of easy grants and litigation galore, for UPC hopefuls)



  10. Even Patent Bullies Like Microsoft and Facebook Find the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) Useful

    Not just companies accused of patent infringement need the PTAB but also frequent accusers with deep pockets need the PTAB, based on some new figures and new developments



  11. Links 21/4/2017: Qt Creator 4.2.2, ROSA Desktop Fresh R9

    Links for the day



  12. At the EPO, Seeding of Puff Piece in the Press/Academia Sometimes Transparent Enough to View

    The EPO‘s PR team likes to 'spam' journalists and others (for PR) and sometimes does this publicly, as the tweets below show — a desperate recruitment and reputation laundering drive



  13. Affordable and Sophisticated Mobile Devices Are Kept Away by Patent Trolls and Aggressors That Tax Everything

    The war against commoditisation of mobile computing has turned a potentially thriving market with fast innovation rates into a war zone full of patent trolls (sometimes suing at the behest of large companies that hand them patents for this purpose)



  14. In Spite of Lobbying and Endless Attempts by the Patent Microcosm, US Supreme Court Won't Consider Any Software Patent Cases Anymore (in the Foreseeable Future)

    Lobbyists of software patents, i.e. proponents of endless litigation and patent trolls, are attempting to convince the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) to have another look at abstract patents and reconsider its position on cases like Alice Corp. v CLS Bank International



  15. Expect Team UPC to Remain in Deep Denial About the Unitary Patent/Unified Court (UPC) Having No Prospects

    The prevailing denial that the UPC is effectively dead, courtesy of sites and blogs whose writers stood to profit from the UPC



  16. EPO in 2017: Erroneously Grant a Lot of Patents in Bulk or Get Sacked

    Quality of patent examination is being abandoned at the EPO and those who disobey or refuse to play along are being fired (or asked to resign to avoid forced resignations which would stain their record)



  17. Links 21/4/2017: System76 Entering Phase Three, KDE Applications 17.04, Elive 2.9.0 Beta

    Links for the day



  18. Bristows-Run IP Kat Continues to Spread Lies to Promote the Unitary Patent (UPC) and Advance the EPO Management's Agenda

    An eclectic response to some of the misleading if not villainous responses to the UPC's death knell in the UK, as well as other noteworthy observations about think tanks and misinformation whose purpose is to warp the patent system so that it serves law firms, for the most part at the expense of science and technology



  19. Links 20/4/2017: Tor Browser 6.5.2, PacketFence 7.0, New Firefox and Chrome

    Links for the day



  20. Patents on Business Methods and Software Are Collapsing, But the Patent Microcosm is Working Hard to Change That

    The never-ending battle over patent law, where those who are in the business of patents push for endless patenting, is still ongoing and resistance/opposition is needed from those who actually produce things (other than litigation) or else they will be perpetually taxed by parasites



  21. IAM, the Patent Trolls' Voice, is Trying to Deny There is a Growing Trolling Problem in Europe

    IAM Media (the EPO's and trolls' mouthpiece) continues a rather disturbing pattern of propaganda dressed up as "news", promoting the agenda of parasites who drain the economy by extortion of legitimate (producing) companies



  22. The Patent Microcosm Keeps Attacking Every Patent Office/System That is Doing the Right Thing

    Patent 'radicals' and 'extremists' -- those to whom patents are needed solely for the purpose of profit from bureaucracy -- fight hard against patent quality and in the process they harm everyone, including individual customers



  23. Another Final Nail in the UPC Coffin: UK General Election

    Ratification of the UPC in the UK can drag on for several more years and never be done thereafter, throwing into uncertainty the whole UPC (EU-wide) as we know it



  24. Links 19/4/2017: DockerCon Coverage, Ubuntu Switching to Wayland

    Links for the day



  25. Links 18/4/2017: Mesa 17.0.4, FFmpeg 3.3

    Links for the day



  26. Patents Roundup: Microsoft, Embargo, Tax Evasion, Surveillance, and Censorship

    An excess of patents and their overutilisation for purposes other than innovation (or dissemination of knowledge) means that society has much to lose, sometimes more than there is to gain



  27. How I Learned that Skype is a Spy Campaign (My Personal Story) -- by Yuval Levental

    Skype is now tracking serial numbers, too



  28. Links 17/4/2017: Devil Linux 1.8.0, GNU IceCat 52.0.2

    Links for the day



  29. EPO Patent Quality and Quality of Service Have Become a Disaster, Say EPO Stakeholders

    Stakeholders of the EPO, in various sites that attract them, are complaining about the service of the EPO, the declining quality of patents (and the rushed processes), including the fact that Battistelli's blind obsession with so-called 'production' dooms the already-up-in-flames EPO and makes it uncompetitive



  30. IAM is a Think Tank for Patent Trolls, Software Patents, the EPO, Microsoft, and Whoever Else is Willing to Pay

    The site where you get what you pay for continues to promote highly damaging agenda, which threatens to disrupt operations at a lot of legitimate companies that employ technical people


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