Microsoft and the EU anti-trust battle

Earlier this week, Microsoft agreed with the EU Commission’s 2004 ruling that it was abusing its dominance in the market in the workgroup server market and would not appeal against a further EU court ruling, which upheld the Commission’s initial findings. Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for competition policy, called this “a victory for the consumer”, but noted her concern about how long it took for Microsoft to comply. Initial reactions in the blogosphere seemed to indicate that this “capitulation” was a win for Open Source. It appears this reaction may have been a little premature. From the article:

Perhaps I was a little quick to congratulate Neelie Kroes on a job well done forcing Microsoft to extend its interoperability protocols to open source software vendors and developers. It now appears that the terms of the agreement mean that it is incompatible with the GPL.

“I told Microsoft that it had to make interoperability information available to open source developers. Microsoft will now do so, with licensing terms that allow every recipient of the resulting software to copy, modify and redistribute it in accordance with the open source business model,” noted Kroes.

Glynn Moody points to the FAQ, which tells a different story, however:

“Can open source software developers implement patented interoperability information?
Open source software developers use various “open source” licences to distribute their software. Some of these licences are incompatible with the patent licence offered by Microsoft. It is up to the commercial open source distributors to ensure that their software products do not infringe upon Microsoft’s patents. If they consider that one or more of Microsoft’s patents would apply to their software product, they can either design around these patents, challenge their validity or take a patent licence from Microsoft.”

As Moody notes: the incompatible licenses include “the GNU GPL, as used by Samba, the only program that really cares about Microsoft’s damn protocols? And let’s not forget that this “patented interoperability information” isn’t even valid in Europe, because you can’t patent software or business methods or whatever you want to call this stuff. And yet the EU has just passed a quick benedictus on the whole bloody thing.”

Indeed, hardly seems like any kind of victory at all. This is no real remedy for the years of abuse, and the spectre of software patents still looms its ugly head. Mark Webbink puts it well:

“I, for one, just wish the Commission had gone a bit easier on the open source rhetoric. It is misleading from the standpoint that the settlement does not resolve all or even the biggest issues that open source will have with implementing these protocols.”

–jeremy

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