Microsoft opens up to open source

22 Feb 2008

That bastion of proprietary software, Microsoft, appears to have changed its spots and is to introduce new interoperability principles that will give third-party developers access to hitherto secret information and APIs for its high-volume enterprise products.

Microsoft says it will publish on its MSDN website documentation for all application programming interfaces (APIs) and communications products for its high-volume products.

Developers won’t need to pay a license or a royalty to access the information.

“These steps represent an important step and significant change in how we share information about our products and technologies,” said Microsoft chief executive officer, Steve Ballmer.

“For the past 33 years, we have shared a lot of information with hundreds of thousands of partners around the world and helped build the industry, but today’s announcement represents a significant expansion toward even greater transparency.

“Our goal is to promote greater interoperability, opportunity and choice for customers and developers throughout the industry by making our products more open and by sharing even more information about our technologies,” Ballmer said.

Microsoft’s senior vice-president in charge of its server and tools business, Bob Muglia, said the move has been prompted by the emergence of web services and service-oriented architecture with the result that interoperability across systems has become a key requirement.

“The changes are embodied in four interoperability principles, which we have committed to. First, to provide an open connection to our high-volume enterprise products; second, promote data portability; third, continue to enhance our support for industry standards; and finally, to create more opportunities to strengthen dialogue and engagement with customers and the industry, including open-source communities.”

Muglia said that over 30,000 pages of documentation for Windows client and server protocols which were previously only available under a trade secret licence will be published immediately.

“We’ll publish protocol documentation for additional products, such as Office 2007, in the upcoming months. This is really important because open access to this documentation will allow third-party developers to connect to Microsoft’s high-volume products just as Microsoft’s other products do.

“Also, we’ll allow open-source developers to access these protocols for free for development and non-commercial distribution. For commercial distribution, Microsoft will license related patents on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, at low royalty rates,” Muglia said.

“The interoperability principles will apply to all of our high-volume products. These are products that are central to day-to-day operations and processes for many large companies. Specifically, the principles apply to Windows Vista, including the .NET Framework, Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007 and Office SharePoint Server 2007. They will apply to future versions of those products as well.”

Muglia denied the move is intended to meet an agreement with the European Commission on interoperability. “It’s a reflection of the changed legal landscape for Microsoft and the industry as a whole.”

By John Kennedy