When disobedient, my generation was â€œtaken to the woodshed,â€ even though this was long after oil tanks had replaced coal bins, which had replaced woodsheds. With my grandchildren, on the other hand, disobedient children seem to get sent to some ethereal â€œtimeout,â€ which apparently can be served anywhere outside of the sight of their parents. On October 22 Neelie Kroes of the European Union Competitive Commission (EU CC) either took Steve Ballmer and Microsoft (MSFT) to the woodshed or sent them to â€œa timeout.â€ You decide.
Her most recent rant is related to the Hackers vs. Hackers battle that has gone on for years between parts of the open source software (OSS) community and Microsoft involving client/server (C/S) interoperability. Specifically the EU CC ruled in 2004 against Microsoft, and that ruling was upheld on September 17, 2007 by the EU’s Court of First Instance (CFI).
I call it â€œhackers vs. hackersâ€ because ‘suits’ simply would not have let this side show go on this long. And I use the term "side show" because the EU investigation and court case discussed had other aspects, most notably the bundling of Window Media Player, which were settled long ago. Even the C/S interoperability issue had been settled in the sense that Microsoft had already announced a Workgroup Server Protocol Program (WSPP) and priced the protocols. The only open item for some time has been the quality of the C/S interoperability documentation already released by Microsoft and the ridiculously high prices Microsoft wanted to charge anyone to license its interoperability technology.
Now Microsoft has announced that they will not appeal the CFI September ruling and that the EU CC says â€œMicrosoft is in full compliance with the European Commissionâ€™s March 2004 decision.â€ According to the Wall St. Journal, Kroes said, â€œâ€¦ Microsoft has previously offered to license this information to developers on terms that the Commission thought wholly unreasonableâ€¦ (but as of October 22):
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Microsoft has slashed its requested royalties for a worldwide license (to related) patents from 5.95% to 0.4%.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Microsoft has now abandoned its demand for a royalty of 2.98% (for access to interoperability information) to a nominal, one-off payment of â‚¬10,000.â€
The blogosphere leads with all kinds of â€œMicrosoft caves inâ€ stories but it sounds to me like Microsoftâ€™s tactic of going into the C/S-interoperability negotiations with ridiculously high royalty rate proposals has paid off because the EU CCâ€™s previous position was that the patented technology and information was of no value and should be given away. It was a no brainer tradeoff to put up with some scolding by the old schoolmarmâ€”now Eurocratâ€”Neelie.
Still the devil is in the details.Â The Microsoft WSPP web site does not seem to be updated yet but I read somewhere that Microsoft will charge for about 41 of its protocols.Â That does not seem to be a lot different than the existing WSPP terms and conditions, which already made many of its protocols available under Microsoftâ€™s OSS-like shared-source program.
Some of the protocols may now even be released on one of the two Microsoft shared-source licenses that the Open Source Initiative recently approved as â€œofficially open source.â€ Kroes is quoted as saying she â€œtold Microsoft that it had to make interoperability information availableâ€ to OSS developers. But Microsoft has been on a major campaign for months to mend fences with the OSS community so no news there.
Kroes also said she told Microsoft â€œthat it should give legal security to programmers who help to develop OSS and confine its patent disputes to commercial software distributors and end users.â€ Well sure, if you mean Red Hat (RHT) is a commercial software distributor.Â Who else would you go after, some kid in a walk up in Helsinki?
One irony seems likely if I have the timelines right.Â Apparently around the same time in the last month that Ballmer was again railing against OSS projects violating Microsoft patents, this time in London, he was meeting for breakfast with Neelie near her home in the Netherlands.