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Microsoft

Microsoft's New Leaf On Interoperability 371

A large number of readers are submitting the news that Microsoft has made a major announcement about interoperating with others including specifically the FOSS world. The impetus is the ongoing EU antitrust case against Microsoft. The announcement comes in the context of the release of 30,000 pages of API documentation for Microsoft Vista, Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007 and Office SharePoint Server 2007 — and a listing of patents that apply to these technologies, and a pledge not to sue open source developers who use the APIs. InfoWorld summarizes by saying that Microsoft "promised greater transparency in its development and business practices." Fortune is blunter, saying "Microsoft declares truce in open source war." Here's Microsoft's FAQ on the open source interop initiative.
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Microsoft's New Leaf On Interoperability

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  • by croddy ( 659025 ) * on Thursday February 21, 2008 @02:48PM (#22505802)
    Captain Richard M. Stallman: They're animals.
    Captain Torvalds: Richard, there is an historic opportunity here.
    Captain Richard M. Stallman: Don't believe them. Don't trust them.
    Captain Torvalds: They're dying.
    Captain Richard M. Stallman: Let them die!
  • Wait a year (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @02:51PM (#22505844) Homepage

    Wait a year. If, a year from now, it turns out this is real, then pay attention. More likely, there will be minimal compliance with EU competition regulations, just as there was in the last two Microsoft antitrust cases.

    • Re:Wait a year (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Plug ( 14127 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @02:55PM (#22505902) Homepage
      Interesting how it happens a week before the ISO ballot resolution meeting on OOXML...
    • Re:Wait a year (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ashridah ( 72567 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @03:16PM (#22506192)
      I can assure you, the work we're doing to comply with the EU regulations is *not* minimal.

      While I can't really opine on the EU's regulations themselves for various reasons, I've been talking with people who are directly affected by them, and the amount of work we're doing to accommodate the EU is astronomical. About a third of our developer workforce has basically lost 6 months or more of time to write documentation on things that range from current file formats, to things that aren't even current technologies anymore.

      That's an astronomical amount of man hours for it to be 'minimal compliance'. We're producing the documentation we're required to produce, at great expense to us. I can't comment on other areas we're being regulated in, however, but it's probably going to take us years to make up the amount of time we've lost in revenue from Europe.

      I'd say (in my own opinion) that the EU regulations have basically turned Europe into a loss leader for us for the next several years. I'm not even convinced that the documentation is going to actually be useful to anyone (See Joel Spolsky's commentary [slashdot.org] on the matter, for instance, and he helped write that code!)
      • Re:Wait a year (Score:4, Insightful)

        by kithrup ( 778358 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @03:29PM (#22506370)

        The interesting thing is that -- based on my own experiences -- writing that documentation will help internally at least as much as externally.

        Need to rewrite something from scratch? Now you have a specification instead of having to scour the old code. Changed the code, and the behaviour has changed? Now you have a specification you can use as a reference, or -- if you put version numbers into the protocol or file format -- modify and go forward.

        Undocumented code happens most places. Being forced to document it (either by internal policy or external court order :)) is painful, but still good.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ashridah ( 72567 )
          The documentation you're talking about is about how things are designed to work, not how they're implemented. There's a difference between the two, and we had the former documented already, it's part of our development processes. That's not what the EU asked us to produce. We've got design specs and feature specs, etc already. The feature doesn't get built without those.

          This documentation that we're being made to write is how the data structures look, *on disk*, etc. I would argue that we don't need that in
          • Re:Wait a year (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Big Jojo ( 50231 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:32PM (#22507334)

            The documentation you're talking about is about how things are designed to work, not how they're implemented ... we had the former documented already ... This documentation that we're being made to write is how the data structures look, *on disk*, etc.

            We have a failure to communicate here. There is no reasonable sense in which disk formats are not part of "how things are designed to work". If you didn't have that documented already, you didn't even have adequate internal documentation! If Microsoft's design methodology thinks otherwise, that's one source of this huge problem.

            The classic buzzphrase for interface specifications is Formats and Protocols, since those are the root of all interoperability. Good design practices may well start from formats and protocols; at least, those are always managed carefully as versioned external interfaces to the next product version, to other vendors' products, and so on.

          • Re:Wait a year (Score:5, Insightful)

            by hxnwix ( 652290 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:34PM (#22507344) Journal

            This documentation that we're being made to write is how the data structures look, *on disk*
            How is a third party supposed to read a file format without knowing about that file's on disk structure?

            You guys could have written good specs and straightforward formats and saved yourselves endless grief. But no, you fucked yourself up the ass, created the excel 100k bug, invested god only knows how many man-centuries of work tending to BS obfuscated formats that you now must finally document. Tough cookie.
            • Re:Wait a year (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Z34107 ( 925136 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @10:28PM (#22510798)

              You guys could have written good specs and straightforward formats and saved yourselves endless grief.

              They did. Let me hash out a few websites from the aforementioned blog

              Excel had to run on a 20MHz computer with 1MB of memory. Files are binary; just write the data structures out to disk, and read from disk straight into memory. No computer would have had the power to open a large (or small!) XML-esque spreadsheet, for example, within the same business day.

              They used existing Windows libraries (OLE, etc.) to make the resulting program smaller and faster. Complete documentation requires detailed explanation of database structures included with Windows 3.11, for example.

              They're OLE compound documents. They're file systems within a file. You can't write a full-featured Word processor without being able to parse the Excel document that powers the chart it contains. Implementing this I'm sure was a few lines of code - I remember OLE being a part of Windows 3.11, just link with it and bam! magic happens - but try implementing this on your own.

              Because writing an entire file could take upwards of a minute on old computers, even for relatively small files, only the changed data was appended to the end. This cut save times to ~1 second, but makes the file harder to parse.

              They were small files. They took up little space on disk and in memory. They saved quickly. They loaded quickly. They were fuckin' magic on computers that had less memory and processing power than my TI-89 graphing calculator.

              But, what were good design decisions for a Windows program are problematic for other people to implement. Boo hoo. And what assholes everyone was to the Microsoft poster, btw.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by theshorn ( 563145 )
        The amount of work you guys have to do to comply with the EU is indicative of how un-open you have been, and is not something you get any points for whining about.
      • Re:Wait a year (Score:4, Insightful)

        by illumin8 ( 148082 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @03:43PM (#22506574) Journal

        While I can't really opine on the EU's regulations themselves for various reasons, I've been talking with people who are directly affected by them, and the amount of work we're doing to accommodate the EU is astronomical. About a third of our developer workforce has basically lost 6 months or more of time to write documentation on things that range from current file formats, to things that aren't even current technologies anymore.
        Cry me a fucking river. The fact that your executive management has abused the industry for decades and made billions by holding back the technological progress being made in other areas of the computer industry with monopoly tactics of format lock-in, collusion with OEM partners, and outright racketeering does not make me sympathetic at all.

        Microsoft should have provided the documentation years ago, when it was first ordered to by the DoJ and the EU. Now that they're finally getting their ass kicked by regulators that can't be bribed or bought out they are finally creating documentation, but only after kicking and screaming like a 2 year old throwing a temper tantrum.

        You don't like it? Tough, find a job as a developer at any number of other companies that don't have unethical business practices. I hear Google is hiring.
        • Also, wouldn't they already have documents on file formats and APIs? What kind of operation are they running that they don't even have API docs handy? Sure some work may need to be done to clean them up for external use, but I hardly doubt that they would be working from scratch on most of these documents.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by ashridah ( 72567 )
            Also, wouldn't they already have documents on file formats and APIs? What kind of operation are they running that they don't even have API docs handy? Sure some work may need to be done to clean them up for external use, but I hardly doubt that they would be working from scratch on most of these documents.

            For what it's worth, we have those. The thing is, the EU is asking us to document API's we've previously declared as internal.

            There's a vast difference in the commenting you can rely on when you can and ca
      • by rhizome ( 115711 )
        the amount of work we're doing to accommodate the EU is astronomical.

        This speaks more to the corner Microsoft has painted itself into, rather than to the amount of openness or compliance achieved. A drowning person has to work in order to be able to breathe air, but this doesn't mean that they've left the water. By all accounts Linux (as well as other forms of Unix) is sitting on the beach in the open air, waiting for any and all comers to speak to it. That Microsoft is so far away from this is an apt metap
      • Re:Wait a year (Score:4, Insightful)

        by LinuxDon ( 925232 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @03:57PM (#22506796)
        Quote: "I'd say (in my own opinion) that the EU regulations have basically turned Europe into a loss leader for us for the next several years."

        What are you talking about? Providing decent documentation that should have been provided in the first place is now called a loss? A win for your customers should also be a win for your company, but apparently you don't see it that way.

        It's still raining absurd amounts money for Microsoft. It's only a good thing to make a bit less and provide some proper documentation and interoperability that should have been provided in the first place!

        And it's a damn shame Microsoft had to be forced by law and fines in order to do business in an ethical way.

        • What are you talking about? Providing decent documentation that should have been provided in the first place is now called a loss? A win for your customers should also be a win for your company, but apparently you don't see it that way.


          If it costs a bunch of money to produce and you don't get any money back for having produced, yeah, that's what they call a loss in the business world. You lose money. Loss vs. gain, not loss vs. win.
      • If the work is so important and you really mean it, then open source it. Put it under the GPL and not a 'shared source' license. This promise to sue means nothing. The shared source means less. Promises get broken and shared source means you own my changes and improvements turning me into a free employee rather than those changes being able to be used by the community at large and even by you, the company and product developers to improve your product.

        Microsoft is only going halfway when previously they

      • I can assure you, the work we're doing to comply with the EU regulations is *not* minimal.


        No, I can assure you, it IS minimal.

        Being part of an organisation doesn't always give you insight into it. Sometimes it makes you blind to it.

      • I can assure you, the work we're doing to comply with the EU regulations is *not* minimal.

        Well, it is possible that Microsoft is becoming a better company. After all, if IBM, of all corporations, could do so (and those old enough, or interested enough in the history of technology, know what I'm talking about), Microsoft most certainly can do so too. But most people will keep their skepticism up for as long as it takes for concrete demonstrations of good behavior to become the norm, rather than the exception

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hooya ( 518216 )
        Well, here's an easy win for ya. I pledge to sing praises of MS *if* MS works with the mod_ssl people to fix the force-response-1.0 issue with apache+mod_ssl and IE. And no it's not just for 4.0x versions of IE. The way I see it, the problem may be in mod_ssl (or it may be in IE) but the mod_ssl people have no way of figuring that out since IE is closed. MS, on the other hand, has access to both IE and mod_ssl. Now, wouldn't it be wonderful if MS took those small, yet practical steps in making things intero
      • by Ang31us ( 1132361 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @06:12PM (#22508582) Homepage
        I have no doubt that Microsoft staff is quite busy working at all times. The Microsoft press release [yahoo.com] makes the company leadership's intentions clear:

        "Microsoft is providing a covenant not to sue open source developers for development or non-commercial distribution of implementations of these protocols. These developers will be able to use the documentation for free to develop products. Companies that engage in commercial distribution of these protocol implementations will be able to obtain a patent license from Microsoft, as will enterprises that obtain these implementations from a distributor that does not have such a patent license."

        And...

        "Microsoft will document for the development community how it supports such standards, including those Microsoft extensions that affect interoperability with other implementations of these standards. This documentation will be published on Microsoft's Web site and it will be accessible without a license, royalty or other fee. These actions will allow third-party developers implementing standards to understand how a standard is used in a Microsoft product and foster improved interoperability for customers. Microsoft will make available a list of any of its patents that cover any of these extensions, and will make available patent licenses on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms."

        Sounds a lot like the SCO mantra to me. "We own the patents, so pay up on the royalty fees and we won't sue you" (Microsoft, February 21, 2008). Given that all of your work is for the benefit of those who are willing to pay Microsoft for the "patent royalty fees," without a judge's decision on whether the patent is valid, is this not the very definition of minimal? If Microsoft is going to have a covenant to not sue open-source developers, what happens to those who don't pay for the Microsoft patent licenses? Do they still get sued? Are they still under threat to be sued? This looks like an evil Microsoft ploy to make $$$ on the backs of open-source developers and end users.

        As for the comparisons of Microsoft to the Open-Source benevolent IBM, I would mention that IBM (Sun Microsystems and others) have donated countless patents to the open-source community. This is NOT what Microsoft is doing and Microsoft should NOT be given the same sweetheart treatment that the IBMs (or Sun Microsystems) of the world have earned through their contributions to the open-source community.
  • Pledge (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Peter Trepan ( 572016 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @02:54PM (#22505872)
    What is a "pledge?" Is it anything like a legally binding agreement, or is it like when you promise to do something while looking at a flag?
    • Re:Pledge (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PPH ( 736903 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @03:02PM (#22506000)
      Its what the PoTUS does at his inauguration when he says he'll uphold the Constitution.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by illumin8 ( 148082 )

      What is a "pledge?" Is it anything like a legally binding agreement, or is it like when you promise to do something while looking at a flag?
      Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you can find a rock. - Will Rogers
    • Re:Pledge (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sm62704 ( 957197 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:03PM (#22506898) Journal
      Dude, you must not be American (lucky you). Here they teach pledges in grade school, so I'll try to enlighten.

      A "pledge" is a promise one makes under threat or other coercion that one has no want or need to actually follow. They've outlawed corporal punishment here since I went to school with Fred and Barney, but you were forced to recite the pledge or go to the principal's office and be caned.

      Today if you don't recite the pledge they expel you, unless you go to school in the inner city in which case they don't even give a shit if you bring a gun, unless you shoot it at one of the staff.

      Schoolchildren use the pledge to learn parody, as in

      I pledge alliegance to the fag
      In the principal's orifice in a married can
      One notion, under Gold, invisible, with libber trees and just ass for owls.
      When the President of the US is sworn in to office, the Constitution says he must pledge to uphold the Constitution. Although every President has taken this pledge, none have as yet actually done anything whatever to uphold said Constitution.

      Pledge is also the brand name of some stuff your mom sprays on the end tables before she wipes your nasty fingerprints off.

      I personally pledge to not hit "submit" with this comment. Oops...
  • by xzvf ( 924443 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @02:55PM (#22505892)
    What we need is for them to work with open standards so we can integrate a few Windows boxes into mixed environment without every other system having to create hack jobs to speak to them. Just because they make API's available just means the workarounds to integrate their world with Linux/Unix/whatever can be supported and the risk of failure is reduced. I'm tired of making compromises to have a heterogeneous environment.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by illumin8 ( 148082 )

      What we need is for them to work with open standards so we can integrate a few Windows boxes into mixed environment without every other system having to create hack jobs to speak to them. Just because they make API's available just means the workarounds to integrate their world with Linux/Unix/whatever can be supported and the risk of failure is reduced. I'm tired of making compromises to have a heterogeneous environment.

      I give it 2-3 years max before this happens. The reason is that Microsoft is losing th

  • by 8282now ( 583198 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @02:57PM (#22505924) Journal
    Wouldn't it be better for them to in a sense "escrow" those patents w/ an external body like the open patents.org people?

    That would indeed show their good faith in allowing TRUE interoperability. As opposed to this, "really we promise we won't beat you THIS time...."

    Just my $0.02.

    • by dsginter ( 104154 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @03:24PM (#22506280)
      Wouldn't it be better for them to in a sense "escrow" those patents w/ an external body like the open patents.org people?

      No - because they are retaining the rights to sue entities that use the information for commercial purposes. Here's the text:

      5. Open Source Compatibility. Microsoft will covenant not to sue open source developers for development and non-commercial distribution of implementations of these Open Protocols.


      This announcement is just marketing spin on what the EU was about to require.
      • If it's done under open source, then non-commercial might well apply as various forms of commercial licenses aren't commercial in the strictest sense anyway. You could charge for media, but not the code. However, if you try and BSD-license some of it-- giving it commercial purposes and intent, then I can see by the licensing stricture that it wouldn't be allowed.

        That doesn't mean I'm not very suspicious, rather non-commercial is the basis of GPL licensing, generally speaking.
      • by rrohbeck ( 944847 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:17PM (#22507122)

        No - because they are retaining the rights to sue entities that use the information for commercial purposes. Here's the text:

        5. Open Source Compatibility. Microsoft will covenant not to sue open source developers for development and non-commercial distribution of implementations of these Open Protocols.
        I can smell a rat here. Would that mean the FOSS apps using their "Open Protocols" could not be distributed in commercial distros like RHEL or SLES/SLED? Would fully free distros like Fedora use them? Would they sue commercial outfits like Ubuntu?
        Smells like an attempt at fragmenting FOSS space.

  • I believe it's called "Rope a dope" :

    I'll even link it for you : Google rope a dope" [google.com]

    "Rope-a-dope is also commonly used to describe strategies in areas other than boxing, where one party purposely puts itself in what appears to be a losing position, and then becomes the eventual victor. Lying on the ropes had been, and still is, considered a "sin" in boxing, exposing a fighter to punishment because he cannot move away from his opponent."
  • Just saying "will publish APIs" is rather useless - MSDN already has thousands of pages of fantastic documentation for APIs. Which new ones will they be publishing? Exports that are considered volatile across versions? Better ways to make shell extensions? Newer custom controls? Ways to plug your own storage engine into SQL Server? Need some specifics, please!

    • by Shados ( 741919 )

      Ways to plug your own storage engine into SQL Server?
      Well, for sure, I doubt Microsoft will be publishing APIs on how to do something they themselves wouldn't be able to :)
      • Yeah, sure would be nice to be able to have more than 8K of data in a single row.
        • by Shados ( 741919 )
          You can. You just can't have more than 8k of numeric, datetimes, etc data. Types like varchar(max) and varbinary(max) don't count toward the 8k limit (and varchar(max) isn't like text...it is can be fully processed like normal varchar columns). So in any sensible database schema, you'll never break the 8k limit. Not saying they shouldn't lift that limitation: they should. But if it gets to be a problem, there is, 99% of the time, a problem with your database design.
  • Mono support (Score:2, Informative)

    by D4MO ( 78537 )
    Hopefully we'll see official support of mono in the same manner as moonlight / silverlight.
  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @03:06PM (#22506044)
    Who wants to bet a lot of the pages look like:

    "This page left intentionally blank"
  • Wait a year or so, and see if makes sense at all, or just all talk for politicians and business people to feel better.
  • As the saying goes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SpiceWare ( 3438 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @03:19PM (#22506232)
    Fool me once, shame on you.
    Fool me twice, shame on me.

    ITake anything Microsoft does with an extremely large grain of salt.
  • ...we were being patent-trolled by Balmer. One would have to be insane to buy this.
  • ...with hell freezing over and all.
  • Promise not to sue (which may be broken any day) => not GPL compatibility.

    So, nothing important, this is the same old Microsoft, they probably mean "pseudo open source" developers, those who are silly enough to use Microsoft's "Open source" licenses. No gift for those evil guys who use the GPL...

  • by MLCT ( 1148749 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @03:34PM (#22506440)
    This is available on the condition that the uses are non-commercial:

    It also promised not to sue open source developers for making that software available for non-commercial use.
    source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7257411.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    If they want to use it commercially then they get sued. This type of news, coupled with yesterdays student IDE give-away is cast iron indication MS is worried by the FOSS world - of course they are attempting to defeat them with these measures while still securing their commercial revenue streams - having their cake and eating it.

    I am sceptical if it will work though - the commercial business end of the spectrum have previously shown themselves more likely to make the shift away from MS products - it is the home market that is much more entrenched.
  • by forgoil ( 104808 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @03:35PM (#22506452) Homepage
    Why would you want to work with MS solutions? Shouldn't *they* adhere to open standards? This makes no sense at all, and must obviously come from a legal world and not a developer world. To explain myself: It is not up to everyone else to work well together with Microsoft, it is up to Microsoft to support open standards. Take Exchange for instance, any client, following the standards, should be able to connect to it, not having to know that it is special magic Microsoft stuff inside. See how nice that works? Everything should work according to that model...
  • "a pledge not to sue open source developers who use the APIs"

    "Microsoft is providing a covenant not to sue open source developers for development or non-commercial distribution [microsoft.com] of implementations of these protocols."
  • Let's be blunt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dracos ( 107777 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:00PM (#22506840)

    Outside of mind bogglingly huge government fines, which MS seems willing to endure, there's no business reason for MS to actually want interoperability with anything or anyone. If they publish their API's, they open the door for competitors to make inroads, and possibly expose themselves to legal risk based on their past behavior. Once win32 software can run at least as well outside of Windows as it does on Windows, then Windows becomes irrelevant: that's their biggest fear. Their second fear is FOSS developers competing and winning against their products and their partners'.

    Any API or documentation that MS publishes has been internally determined to have low or no risk to them. If they published everything, there would be a completely FOSS Windows clone started within months, and the outcome would be similar to how Linux overcame the commercial Unix flavors.

    This action, like so many before, is a meaningless charade to make them appear cooperative.

  • by rs232 ( 849320 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:05PM (#22506918)
    "open source developers will be able to use the documentation to develop implementations of these protocols without paying for a patent license", Brad Smith

    Companies that subsequently engage in commercial distribution of these protocol implementations will be able to obtain a patent license from Microsoft", Brad Smith.

    "with respect to companies that are engaged in commercial distribution, or use internally, there is a need to obtain a patent license where there are applicable patent rights", Brad Smith

    "We have valuable intellectual property in our patents .. and we will monetize from [microsoft.com] .. all users of that patented technology, all commercial developers, and all commercial users of that patented technology", Steve Ballmer
  • by feranick ( 858651 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @05:22PM (#22507988)
    What would be a truly sincere support of interoperability and open standards? For one, full support of OpenDocument.
  • Non Serviam (Score:3, Insightful)

    by argent ( 18001 ) <peter.slashdot@2006@taronga@com> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:27PM (#22509332) Homepage Journal

    iii. Open Source Compatibility. Microsoft will promise not to sue open source developers for development and non-commercial distribution of implementations of these Open Protocols. Companies that engage in commercial distribution of these protocol implementations will be able to obtain a patent license from Microsoft, as will enterprises that obtain these implementations from a distributor that does not have such a patent license.


    Translation: open source programs that interoperate with Microsoft products will serve as a free software development arm for Microsoft. No matter what open source license they use, Microsoft's submarine patents will make them equivalent to shareware.

    Non Serviam. I'll use open APIs, not "shareware" ones from Microsoft.

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