EditorsAbout the SiteComes vs. MicrosoftUsing This Web SiteSite ArchivesCredibility IndexOOXMLOpenDocumentPatentsNovellNews DigestSite NewsRSS

10.13.08

Microsoft’s Attitude Towards Interoperability Versus Standards — One Year Later

Posted in Interoperability, Microsoft, Samba, Servers, Standard at 8:17 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

[Note: some of the claims made here may be out of date, but the principles remain valid.]

Interoperability” has become a weasel word. The word is regularly used to insinuate that two (or more) computer systems should work very well, but they usually work well for the wrong reasons. The method adopted to make these systems work is flawed. This approach monetizes something that should be free and something which typically requires no research and development whatsoever. It is an unfortunate case where the role of standards is being ignored and replaced.

When discussing interoperability between products, restrictive conditions such as patents and licensing agreements are often kept out of sight. In a similar fashion, when discussing software patents, their controversial nature is typically concealed under an ‘umbrella’ called “intellectual property”. This leads to unnecessary confusion and has software patents honored in countries where such patents are fundamentally against the law.

Eyes on Europe

EU and Polish flagA couple of months ago in Europe, an agreement was announced between the European Commission, spearheaded by Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes, and Microsoft, which had just lost its antitrust appeal. The agreement embraced a route to further saturation in the server market, but rather than insisting on the use of standards, it seems to have drifted in another direction, which involved interoperability rather than open standards.

But Wait! What About Samba and the GNU GPL?

The agreement in Europe might stifle competition rather than spur any. It does not appeal to Free software developers and it is intrinsically incompatible with the most widely used software license in the world (GNU General Public License). This essentially leaves out in the cold what Microsoft has considered its #1 threat for many years.

“With the European Commission’s agreement, a great concern arises.”
The Samba project, which is GPL-licensed, enables several operating systems to interact with Microsoft Windows. Windows is ubiquitous, so this is essential. Protocols for file and printer sharing, for instance, are very prevalent in a form that designed by Microsoft many years ago. None of this design was standardized or published openly, so reverse-engineering work was needed to bridge a critical gap. This made Free software, such as GNU/Linux, more viable in the enterprise.

With the European Commission’s agreement, a great concern arises. Suddenly, reverse-engineering endeavours that so many people rely on can be made subjected to the wrath of software patents (and thus royalties). Ironically enough, Europe itself does not honor software patents, yet it seems to have blindly accepted what Microsoft insists on. There is a great danger here — the danger of letting standards be neglected and crucial consensus be decentralized.

Let us look at the importance of standards and then return to the issue at hand. This issue is unlikely to go away unless the European Commission changes its mind and its decision, thereby acknowledging its misunderstandings.

Why Are Standards Important?

In a world where diverse mixtures of technologies exist, products need to communicate. They need to interact with one another in order to handle complex tasks and for users to achieve their goals. The consensus has usually been that in order for products to communicate, industry leaders and field experts should convene and agree on a set of rules. They should agree on a single uniform method (or a set thereof) that will enable products to cooperate with one another. This is what standards are all about.

“By adhering to standards, communication with other products can be assured. ”Companies have plenty or reasons to like standards. Universal standards make development much easier and they facilitate integration with other technologies. By adhering to standards, communication with other products can be assured. Rather than test and design ‘bridges’ (or ‘translators’, or lossy ‘converters’) for each pair or products, design can be matched to a written, publically-available and static standard. It makes life easier for both software development companies and companies that consume technology, i.e. those that actually use the products and whose requirements matter the most.

What happens, however, when one company deviates from the standard in pursuit of more control? Capitalization is dependent upon the ability to show that something unique is being offered. Standards, nevertheless, are about uniformity, not about being unique. Therefore, companies that want a greater level of control over customers are more likely to ignore standards, but the situation is not quite so simple.

In order to ignore a standard, it takes a lot of aggression. It also requires a market share large enough to abolish or at least fight against the standard, which is backed by many parties, not one. With monopoly control, standards are pretty much defined by the monopolist. They can be changed and extended at any time without causing much interference. However, such use of power can also push rival companies off the cliff. At the end of the day, this hurts consumers who are left without choice and have little control over pricing and upgrade pace.

The Symbiotic Relationship Between Standards and Openness

Free open source software enjoys a good resemblance to the notion of free and open standards. Both are available for viewing and they encourage participation. Free open source software tends to embrace standards for a plethora or reasons. Proprietary software, on the other hand, does not expose its underlying behaviour. Quite often, its value lies in behaviour that is hidden. The software protects (in the ownership sense) certain knowledge, so transparency is neither an option nor a priority.

Standards play a role in prevention of vendor lock-in. They facilitate choice and they encourage greater diversity in the market. Adversity to standards is not only motivated by financial value that can be found in restriction on choice, i.e. imprisoning the customer. It is also motivated by the ability to extract revenue directly from competitors. That is where software patents and so-called “intellectual monopolies” serve as a dangerous new element to keep on eye on. They have become a curious phenomenon in the software world because they are fearsome to many and beneficial to very few.

Patents Meet Free Standards and Free Software

In Europe, Microsoft has essentially managed to collect a trophy for snubbing standards all these years. Its lawyers turned a loss in the court into a small victory. In an antitrust exhibit extracted from the previous decade, Microsoft revealed its intent to ignore standardization bodies at all costs.

“In an antitrust exhibit extracted from the previous decade, Microsoft revealed its intent to ignore standardization bodies at all costs.”
“We are large enough that this can work,” an internal document from Microsoft stated. This was said after the following eye-opening statement: “We [Microsoft] want to own these standards, so we should not participate in standards groups.” From the Halloween Documents, whose existence and authenticity was confirmed last year, it is revealed that Microsoft planned to “innovate above standard protocols” to deny entry of Free open source software projects into the market.

Having made a de facto standard so common and having defended its existence, all Microsoft needed was a reservation of rights to demand payments from competitors. Samba distributors and users are arguably bound by a promise which the European Commission specifies in its agreement with Microsoft. Other than the cost of obtaining documentation, there are patent royalties to be considered.

Reflections and Ways to Proceed

The decision which was made by the European Commission seems to have been a poor one. For starters, interoperability was chosen as the route to compliance, all at the expense of open standards. Moreover, based on the Commission’s own assessment, an interoperability route was needed merely because “trivial and pointless” extensions were added on top of existing standards, in order to stifle adoption of competing products. The Commission’s accusations and blame align poorly with its decision, which is discriminatory — if not exclusionary at best — towards Free open source software.

In conclusion, one must remember that open standards must never be conceded and replaced by a void promise of interoperability, which is incompatible with everything that standards and Free open source software stand for. Numerous parties have therefore protested and have already urged the European Commission to reconsider and revise its decision.

Originally published in Datamation in 2007

Share this post: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Reddit
  • co.mments
  • DZone
  • email
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • NewsVine
  • Print
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis
  • Facebook

If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the RSS feed or join us now at the IRC channels.

Pages that cross-reference this one

What Else is New


  1. Links 24/8/2016: More From LinuxCon, Uganda Wants FOSS

    Links for the day



  2. Links 23/8/2016: GNOME 3.22 Beta, Android 7.0 Nougat

    Links for the day



  3. The Linux Foundation Gives Microsoft (Paid-for) Keynote Position While Microsoft Extorts (With Patents) Lenovo and Motorola Over Linux Use

    This morning's reminder that Nadella is just another Ballmer (with a different face); Motorola and Lenovo surrender to Microsoft's patent demands and will soon put Microsoft spyware/malware on their Linux-powered products to avert costly legal battles



  4. Not Just President Battistelli: EPO Vice-Presidents Are Still Intentionally Misrepresenting EPO Staff

    Evidence serving to show that EPO Vice-Presidents are still intentionally misrepresenting EPO staff representatives and misleading everyone in order to defend Battistelli



  5. Battistelli the Liar Causes a Climate of Confrontation in French Politics, Lies About Patent Quality (Among Many Other Things)

    Battistelli's lies are coming under increased scrutiny inside and outside the European Patent Office (EPO), where patent quality has been abandoned in order to artificially elevate figures



  6. The Collapse of Software Patents and Patent Law Firms Trying to “Overcome” Alice

    The United States continues its gradual crackdown on software patents (which are viewed as abstract and thus unpatentable), whereas in Europe things are murkier than ever



  7. Apple's Patent Wars Against Android/Linux Make Patent Trolls Stronger

    Apple's insistence that designs should be patentable could prove to be collectively expensive, as patent trolls would then use a possible SCOTUS nod to launch litigation campaigns



  8. Links 22/8/2016: Linux 4.8 RC3, Linux Mint 18 “Sarah” KDE Beta

    Links for the day



  9. Links 21/8/2016: Apple and Microsoft Down, Systemd Spreading to Mount

    Links for the day



  10. Links 20/8/2016: Android Domination, FSFE summit 2016

    Links for the day



  11. Patents Roundup: Trolls Dominate Litigation, PTAB Crushes Patents, Patent Box Regime Persists, and OIN Explains Itself

    Another roundup of patent news from around the Web with special focus on software patenting



  12. The Cost/Toll of the 'New' EPO and Where All That Money Goes or Comes From

    The European Patent Office has become a servant of the rich and powerful (including large foreign corporations) and even its own employees now pay the price associated with misguided new policies (or 'reforms' as Battistelli habitually refers to these)



  13. Links 19/8/2016: Linux Mint With KDE, Linux Foundation's PNDA

    Links for the day



  14. The End of an Era at the USPTO as Battistelli-Like (EPO) Granting Policies Are Over

    The United States is seeing the potency of patents -- especially software patents (which make up much of the country's troll cases) -- challenged by courts and by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB)



  15. Battistelli's European Patent Office Goes to the United States to Speak About the UPC and Software Patents

    The European Patent Office is showing its utter contempt -- not just disregard -- for the very fundamental rules that put it in its place and brought it into existence



  16. Turkey Subjected to the European Patent Convention (EPC) But Benoît Battistelli is Not?

    The ‘constitutional crisis’ at the European Patent Office in the context of Turkey, which has signed "the EPC and as such recognises the competence and the decisions of the institutions which have been introduced in the convention."



  17. Links 18/8/2016: EFF Slams Vista 10, Linux Foundation Makes PNDA

    Links for the day



  18. Links 17/8/2016: GNOME and Debian Anniversaries

    Links for the day



  19. Personal Audio LLC and Patent Troll Jim Logan Demonstrate the Harms of Software Patents and Why They Must Never Spread to Europe

    Jim Logan of Personal Audio (a notorious Texas-based patent troll) is still fighting with his bogus patent, having already caused enormous damage with a single software patent that should never have been granted in the first place (due to prior art, not just Alice)



  20. The Patent Microcosm Hopes That the Originators of Software Patents Will Undermine the Patent Trial and Appeal Board

    Now that the actions of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), which have been consistently upheld by the CAFC in precedential decisions, are suddenly being questioned the patent microcosm gets all giddy and tries to undermine PTAB (again)



  21. That Time When the Administrative Council Helped Battistelli Crush Oversight (Audit Committee) and What ILO Said About It a Month Ago

    Things are becoming ever more troublesome at the EPO as the Administrative Council enjoys inaction from the International Labour Organization (ILO), in spite of its role in destroying much-needed oversight at the behest of Battistelli



  22. The EPO's Administrative Council Keeps Postponing Debate About Grounds for Firing the President

    A recollection of events prior to the latest Administrative Council meeting, where Benoît Battistelli's failings and accountability for failing to correct them never even came up



  23. A Surge of Staff Complaints About the European Patent Office Drowns the System, Disservice to Justice Noted

    Self-explanatory graphs about the state of the justice [sic] system which is prejudiced towards/against EPO workers, based on internal reports



  24. Links 16/8/2016: White House Urged by EFF on FOSS, Go 1.7 Released

    Links for the day



  25. Links 15/8/2016: Linux 4.8 RC2, Glimpses at OpenMandriva Lx 3.0

    Links for the day



  26. Clawing Back the Staff Benefits at the European Patent Office (EPO)

    Staff of the EPO is leaving (or retiring) in droves as abusive management continues to be the norm and staff benefits are being taken away or gradually revoked



  27. The Patent Microcosm is Panicking and Spinning Alice/§ 101 Because US Software Patents Are Still Dying

    A look at recent developments in the software patents scene in the United States, with increased focus on (or fear of) the Patent Trial and Appeal Board



  28. 21,000 Posts in Techrights in Less Than a Decade

    This post is the 21,000th post and the next one will make it more than twenty-one thousand posts in total. We are turning 10 in November.



  29. Patent Microcosm Shuts Out the Poor: Unified Patent Court (UPC) Promotion by Practising Law Institute (PLI) Only for the Wealthy

    The people who are profiting from patent feuds, disputes, lawsuits etc. are still trying to muscle their will into European law and they keep the general public out of it by locking down (or pricing out of reach) their meetings where they influence/lobby decision-making officials



  30. The United States Has a Growing Patent Trolls Epidemic as Very High Proportion of Lawsuits Filed by Them

    A look at the high proportion of patent lawsuits that are filed by entities that make nothing at all and thus serve no role whatsoever in innovation


CoPilotCo

RSS 64x64RSS Feed: subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates

Home iconSite Wiki: You can improve this site by helping the extension of the site's content

Home iconSite Home: Background about the site and some key features in the front page

Chat iconIRC Channel: Come and chat with us in real time

CoPilotCo

Recent Posts