Microsoft Gambles One EU Customer Will Make its Case

It has been "Issues Week" all week for Microsoft, and Thursday, the company took on the dreaded interoperability issue. But its choice of message was called into question a bit yesterday after Microsoft boasted of having signed up its first official customer for its communications and interoperability IP licenses: Quest Software, the manufacturer of the Toad data modeling system.

Microsoft was ordered by the European Commission - the legislative arm of the EU government - to provide software libraries and instructions that can make other software, including other operating systems, fully interoperate with Windows. Microsoft has been licensing some portions of its Windows source code that enable interoperability since January 2006, though it has struggled in recent months to come up with fees for new, key portions that are acceptable to the EC.

But even Microsoft's supporters may be wondering why the company started releasing the balloons and confetti for Customer #1.

Among Quest's repertoire are Windows-based management consoles that give centralized access to diverse database and communications environments, including some housed on Unix servers. So obviously, access to the interop protocols will help Quest.

In a prepared statement this morning, Quest president Doug Garn alluded to his company's established relationship with Microsoft, when he said, "Our mutual goal has been to ensure enterprise organizations needing to manage a diverse infrastructure can do so in a practical way and leverage their existing investments in technology and people."

It's that pre-existing, mutual relationship that Microsoft's now-familiar nemesis, the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, seized upon Thursday morning. In an interview with the AP, its most vocal attorney, Thomas Vinje, "Nobody in their right mind would take one of these licenses...It's window-dressing arranged by Microsoft to cover up its refusal to comply with the Commission decision."

As for whether or not Quest was in its right mind, Vinje addressed that notion by pointing out Quest was already a Microsoft partner. The implication is that the EC intended the IP licensing program to appeal to Microsoft's competitors as well as its partners.

The ECIS represents quite a few of those competitors, including IBM, Adobe, Oracle, Red Hat, and Sun Microsystems - perhaps the crowd who would be toughest to please to begin with. Last week, when the EC refreshed its complaints against Microsoft, threatening it with new fines for charging for intellectual property it believes may not be innovative enough to qualify as IP, the most vocal anti-Microsoft voice in the press was once again Thomas Vinje. Suggesting new fines may not amount to much for Microsoft, he told the AP then, "They'd rather just pay the parking tickets and park where they like."

Soon afterward, when Microsoft defended its fees with the aid of a PricewaterhouseCoopers report that contended they were actually lower than the market average for IP licensing, it was Vinje who countered that PWC didn't know what the market really was.

"The PWC study compares the prices Microsoft wants to charge with the market price for much more valuable information such as software code, documentation, and full redistribution rights," he told InfoWorld.

And the week before that, when opponents mounted a PR offensive alleging that Microsoft's Web-oriented control interface protocol, XAML, was part of a fiendish scheme to supplant HTML as the principal language of the Web, leading the charge once again was Thomas Vinje.

In a March 2006 profile of Vinje for BusinessWeek, Microsoft's European attorney Horacio Gutierrez characterized the ECIS, which Vinje co-founded, as "a very small group of companies with a very clear business interest in keeping Microsoft harassed by the regulatory process."

Microsoft may have one customer right now, but its opposition in recent days appears to be led by one voice.

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