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05.25.11

European Commission Should Also Fine Microsoft for Using Skype to Further Harm Interoperability

Posted in Antitrust, Europe, Free/Libre Software, Microsoft at 5:16 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Money rules the world

Summary: Microsoft already ruins interoperability between Skype and other software (which is based on Free/open source software) and this comes amidst important hearings and fines in Europe

Skype never used standard protocols, but there were at least some links one might call “interoperability” and there was cross-platform support, even if it was poor. Speaking for myself, Skype never worked for me as webcams that worked perfectly using SIP clients simply failed in Skype. The program was necessary because of the network effect, which meant that many people would not be contactable through any program other than Skype. Techrights prefers SIP and Free software.

Well, guess what? Microsoft already uses Skype to shaft GNU/Linux and Free software users on the face of it. “Microsoft kills Skype for Asterisk,” informed us one reader (in IRC). “Need to get the word out that SIP clients can talk to each other, not just to the same model.”

He adds that “people that were advocating FOSS skype clients have been shown that option is dead. SIP is the way forward for softphones” (I personally have a SIP phone connected to my hub at home).

“Just two short weeks after assuring us Skype was safe in their hands, Microsoft seems intent on cutting its link with Linux.”
      –Simon Phipps
Mr. Phipps from the OSI writes: Just two short weeks after assuring us Skype was safe in their hands, Microsoft seems intent on cutting its link with Linux.”

He continues: “Having suspended disbelief for as long as I could, my ability to take Microsoft at their word over Skype was shattered yesterday on hearing the announcement by Digium, sponsors of the widely-used Asterisk VoIP project, that they have been told they can no longer sell their Asterisk-Skype interaction module after July 26. That means it will become impossible for this VoIP PBX to connect to Skype.”

Will the OSI help complain like it did regarding CPTN? Maybe it ought to.

So anyway, why is this important? At this very moment Microsoft is under fire in Europe for stifling interoperability. This cannot help Microsoft’s case, can it? In fact, regarding the hearing which the FSFE mentioned and we wrote about yesterday, here is the summary from the FSFE. It is titled “FSFE in Samba case: Microsoft’s defiance backfired” and it says:

The problems date back to the Commission’s 2004 decision that Microsoft should release interoperability information. After that, the company played for time and waited three years to comply with the Commission’s demands. Explaining the significance of Samba for a competitive software market, Chamber President Forwood said: “Samba is the funnel through which the effects on the market will be produced.”

Microsoft contended that the information it had to provide was valuable and innovative, and originally sought to charge high prices for it. Tridgell demonstrated that the valuable information had already been revealed by Microsoft in research papers and other public fora. By contrast, the information that Samba team needed to interoperate with computers running Microsoft Windows was neither original nor innovative.

“Microsoft didn’t keep this information secret because it was valuable; the information was only valuable because it was kept secret,” Piana told the Court on behalf of FSFE. He said it let Microsoft preserve its dominant position, because no other software was able to talk to the company’s systems. “The company used these three years to further entrench its dominant position in the market.”

“Microsoft is acting like a gambler who doubled up on a losing bet, and now wants his money back,” said Nicholas Kahn, the representative of the European Commission. By waiting three years before complying with the Commission’s decision while the clock on the fine was ticking, Microsoft set the stakes very high – and finally lost.

“In this case, Europe’s competition regulators have shown their bite. We hope that the court will uphold the fine and make it clear that companies in Europe have to play by the rules,” said Karsten Gerloff, President of the Free Software Foundation Europe. “FSFE does many things to help foster the growth of Free Software. We’re proud to help make the case for Free Software in a forum such as this, where we believe we are providing a public service.”

There are also some news reports about it [1, 2]:

The world’s largest software company told judges at an appeal hearing today that the 2008 European Commission fine was “especially unfair” because the regulator failed to give it sufficient guidance to avoid the fine. The court should annul the “unnecessary, unlawful and totally disproportionate penalty,” Microsoft lawyer Jean-Francois Bellis told the court.

Microsoft is the only company in more than 50 years of EU competition policy to be penalized for failing to comply with an order. Today’s case is the last remnant of years of disputes with the commission that resulted in fines totaling 1.68 billion euros. Microsoft agreed to a settlement in 2009 in a bid to repair the company’s uneasy relationship with the EU regulator.

Groklaw thinks it is “[r]ather sad if a company’s goal is to establish it isn’t “as bad” as you thought. Here’s Microsoft’s appeal.” Well, Microsoft thinks it is above the law and it uses PR to try and brainwash the public and daemonise those who penalise for true crimes. It’s all propaganda, just like the current propaganda about Vista 8. As Renai LeMay put it, “it’s too soon, Microsoft”. To quote:

To most consumers, Windows 8 will likely look and feel pretty similar to Windows 7, which in turn looked much like Windows Vista.

Exactly. And this is why we call it Vista 8. Imaginary hardware features is all it has (or doesn't have). But going back to the original point, Microsoft is lying about interoperability. Microsoft is not playing nice, it is just trying to dodge fines.

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7 Comments

  1. twitter said,

    May 25, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    Gravatar

    Excellent work connecting the dots to bring out the real story, that Microsoft is still an abusive and coercive monopoly that needs to be punished and kept from further harming society. The company’s history of denying other companies interoperability and destroying software that might give an advantage to their competitors.

    The destruction of Skype is part of the destruction the netbook threat to Microsoft. The $200 EEE PC that Asus rolled out in 2007 came with Skype and later tied it together with the built in webcam. That was killer stuff, given that Vista and then Windows 7 were hopeless losers on netbooks. Techrights detailed the destruction of that particular netbook by the corruption of Xandros, the gnu/linux supplier, and damage Microsoft did to Asus in retaliation [Asus Kickbacks were obviously not enough to make up for the rest]. Now Microsoft has taken away a key piece that made netbooks something better than the average Windows desktop.

    Last week, RMS reminded everyone that all non free software is like this.

    The Skype client program is nonfree software: it gives its owner power over its users. Presently it will give the same power to a different company. The identity of the master is just a detail, because freedom means not having a master. …

    The GNU Project is developing free software to do more or less the same job, and multiple free programs by others also already do the basics

    I’m afraid that the owner, in this case, does matter and EU anti-trust agents are asleep at the wheel. Skype’s business model, selling connectivity to ordinary phones, did not depend necessarily on non free software. Microsoft is a convicted monopolist that will never consider free software and will probably take Skype’s software patents and well recognized brand name to threaten any free software alternative. Sickly enough, Microsoft may even use their purchase as a justification of software patents in Europe by telling regulators that they deserve to exclude others because they spent a lot of money buying an innovator.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Didn’t Skype just simply buy many of its patents?

    twitter Reply:

    I don’t know. Most of what I read was about people suing Skype. They were looking for someone to grow their patents back in 2008. Here’s an article about the deal makes it look like Skype was filing on their own,

    Skype has 32 approved patents and 36 filed patents in the US on all manner of topics related to peer2peer and IP communications. Given, as I said above, that peer2peer communications solves all kinds of UC scaling issues, and given that patent lawsuits against Microsoft are never less than $1 billion in damages, the price tag for this acquisition could be justified on the intellectual property inventory alone.

    I’m not sure why the author is channeling Microsoft interests, but the information presented is interesting, even if the author is pro Microsoft enough to serve things as application server pages. Ick.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Microsoft can now block/hobble a lot of VOIP competitors.

  2. girts said,

    May 26, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Gravatar

    Need big investigations here!!!!

    MS will not stop GNU Telephony.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Patents might be an issue to look into.

  3. twitter said,

    May 26, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    Gravatar

    PJ reminds us of the report ECIS wrote it in support of the EU Commission’s recent preliminary findings against that Microsoft violated antitrust law by tying IE to Windows. This was a partial history of anti-competitive practices that included patent extortion of gnu/linux.

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