Secret Protocols

By Matthew Broersma  |  Posted 2005-01-25 Print this article Print

More important to open-source developers and vendors is the other major remedy, which forces Microsoft to license secret server protocols to competitors on "reasonable, nondiscriminatory terms." Microsoft has already done something similar to comply with a 2002 U.S. antitrust decision—it offers Windows client protocols for license under the Microsoft Communications Protocol Program, or MCPP. These protocols are available for worldwide license, so European companies already have access. The commissions decision adds another category of protocols for license: the protocols Windows desktops use to communicate with servers.
This requirement is designed to prevent Microsoft from using its desktop operating system monopoly as leverage in the server operating system market, by making sure that Windows clients always work best with Windows servers.
It should also ensure that competing desktop systems can communicate with Windows servers as well as Windows desktops can. Microsoft has already added the new protocols to its MCPP site. But if developers want to build the protocols into products, they must agree not to distribute that product in source-code form, or to subject it to licenses that require source-code disclosure, a formula that excludes many open-source licenses. "Under certain circumstances, other licenses may require your implementation to be disclosed in source code form when you distribute your implementation with other technology that is already subject to that other license," Microsoft says in its MCPP license overview. "You cant subject your authorized implementations to any license that requires you do things that are contrary to the scope of your license and your obligations under the license agreement." The licensing terms dont stop an open-source developer from creating a separate component, under a proprietary license, that implements the protocols. "This reads, GNU GPL, get outta here!" Piana said. He pointed out that Samba, the software most Linux implementations rely on for file and print sharing on Windows networks, is licensed under the GPL and thus wouldnt be eligible. "If the commission were to accept this kind of proposal ... the market would not evolve for two or three years, at least," he said. The FSF will take its concerns to the commission, Piana said, which may negotiate with Microsoft over the licensing terms. Microsoft argues that the present terms are necessary to protect its trade secrets. "The specifications used to create your protocol implementations are confidential and, along with the source code of those implementations, include Microsoft trade secrets," the license overview says. A Microsoft spokesman said the licensing terms are not discriminatory. "The same terms are offered to everybody, including the makers of free software," he said. Editors Note: This story was updated to include commentary from Microsoft. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.


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