Microsoft makes good on EU protocol delivery promise

It's the start of a new era for the company that once argued that giving away the keys to its protocols would somehow reveal the secret of Windows itself: Microsoft has made its first obligatory agreement with a key open source provider.

Complying with its European Union obligations to make Windows interoperability information completely available to companies and organizations that it might otherwise consider to be competitors, Microsoft yesterday executed an historically important agreement with Samba, a major provider of open source interop tools for network administrators.

The agreement is essentially unlimited, and perhaps the model of agreements to come with similar open source providers. It opens up all of Windows' key network communications protocols under its revised Workgroup Server Protocol Program (WSPP), including those being devised for Windows Server 2008.

Here, the concept of "opening up" is pretty basic, which is perhaps how the open source community would prefer it: Microsoft agrees to make all documentation available for 164 different categories of WSPP protocols, and to allow Samba and certain third parties of Samba's choosing to make "implementations" based on what it learns from that documentation. In exchange, Samba pays Microsoft a one-time fee of 10,000 euros.

Samba's tools make file and print services and resources available to network clients that abide by the standard Server Message Block (SMB) protocol, and are put to use on both Unix and Linux servers.

In a statement late yesterday, Samba co-creator Jeremy Allison applauded his team's ability to construct a workable agreement with Microsoft.

"We are hoping to get back to the productive relationship we had with Microsoft during the early 1990s when we shared information about these protocols," Allison said. "The agreement also clarifies the exact patent numbers concerned so there is no possibility of misunderstandings around this issue."

The patent number problem, Samba stated, dates back to the time of its original complaint before the European Commission, literally before the turn of the decade: the notion that Microsoft may have been claiming international patent rights to technologies Samba and other open source advocates claim it shouldn't really own.

The organization regrets that the EU didn't really address the problem, it said yesterday, which could have led to a different conclusion: Microsoft wouldn't have been the party to have licensed these technologies in the first place.

For its own part, Microsoft has only made perfunctory, though gracious, statements to the general press on the agreement.

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