Microsoft gives in, will share scanning service spec with working group

In one more demonstration that it's taking a different stance with regard to the intellectual property it uses, Microsoft has dropped its objection to an IEEE working group making use of a Web services protocol it developed for Vista.

Removing a roadblock that might have continued to prevent an alliance of printer and tools manufacturers from implementing a Web services-based specification for document scanning devices, Microsoft announced yesterday it will go ahead and provide its Scan Service Definition 1.0 for Web Services on Devices, to the IEEE's Printer Working Group.

Microsoft is a member of the PWG, as are manufacturers such as Canon, Lexmark, Ricoh, Apple, Dell, Sharp, Samsung, and Epson. Together, they're working on a standardized way for scanning devices connected to a network to issue job control messages using a Web services protocol. Microsoft had already produced a protocol for Windows Vista to manage network-based scanners, originally called "WSD Scan". Since the framework was already in existence, the PWG called upon Microsoft in February 2007 to see whether there was anything in its existing model that it could use to create broader data and service models for a more general standard.

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But according to PWG meeting minutes that July, Microsoft's representative came back with the bad news that it might not be able to do so, because not everything that went into the WSD-Scan specification was its own to share.

"Mike Fenelon explained that Microsoft's concern is its contractual agreements with individual company's contribution to WSD-Scan," the minutes read. "Unfortunately Microsoft cannot provide WSD-scan specification as a whole for the basic starting point of PWG scan service. But Mike is free to discuss the basic concept of scanning, and contribute according to his own knowledge to move the model to the right direction."

As the minutes continued, it wouldn't be possible to just "cut and paste" the specification without reviewing the intellectual property problems involved. Xerox' representative then said he'd never had any trouble contributing to the PWG, even though there were probably IP issues buried within its contributions. The discussion concluded with Microsoft saying it would be happy to contribute its observations and directions as a PWG member, "but cannot let PWG take the entire WSD-scan specification due to the contractual agreement with many companies. But there is nothing to prevent an individual company to take whatever it contributed to WSD-scan before to PWG scan service if the company chooses so."

Between last July and last April, however, Microsoft's stance on the matter did a complete 180, from wrinkling its nose about the idea to promoting the concept as something the PWG should actively adopt. In a meeting last month, Microsoft's representatives presented a PowerPoint presentation (PDF available here) fully explaining how WS-Scan (now without the extra "D") enabled devices endowed with the protocol to generate a "job ticket" -- a kind of electronic manifest for the scanning job -- set forth the methods which initiate the job, and marshal the transfer of data between devices in the network.

The presentation may have been Microsoft's easiest sell to date. As recently as three weeks ago, PWG members were actively debating how to map WS-Scan service codes into their existing model, with all the fervor of congressmen marking up a tax appropriations bill.

Yesterday's announcement was the culmination of several weeks of heavy collaboration, the result of which could be a new generation of scanning devices that can plug into a company network and be managed through administrative SMT software...such as Microsoft's own.

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