Microsoft Pledge Is Right

Opinion: Microsoft's open-source pledge is a good step.

Microsoft is continuing to take steps that recognize the new reality of the software industry. On Sept. 12, Microsoft issued an "Open Specification Promise," in which the software giant pledged not to sue developers or customers who implement 35 particular Web service specifications, enumerated on Microsofts Web site.

The pledge, which has so far received positive reviews from Red Hats Deputy General Counsel Mark Webbink and former Open Source Initiative General Counsel Lawrence Rosen, is a solid step by Microsoft toward playing more nicely with its rivals and collaborators, be they purveyors of open-source or proprietary software.

The Microsoft promise is good for developers, who will have more choices in the tools they will be able to use to create products. The pledge also should benefit customers, who will enjoy a wider choice among a greater array of products built by those developers.

The move also is in Microsofts interest—the fewer legal entanglements that loom before developers considering whether to build on Microsofts Web service initiatives, the quicker these initiatives will take off. Also, the pledge covers only parties that refrain from undertaking patent action against Microsoft, which should provide Microsoft with some cover from the swelling tide of patent litigation the company has been facing.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts pledge not to sue over Web services specs.

It wasnt the first step by Microsoft in this direction. Earlier this year, Microsoft issued a similar pledge not to sue implementers of its new-for-Office 12 OpenXML document formats. According to Rosen and others who have commented so far on Microsofts Web services move, this latest promise has done a better job addressing concerns of open-source developers than had that OpenXML pledge. We agree.

Has Microsoft really gotten open standards religion? We can judge only by the companys works. While moves such as those Microsoft has made with regard to nascent OpenXML and Web services standards are certainly promising, the true test of Microsofts respect for openness will be what the company does with the protocols, standards and specifications that relate to Microsofts entrenched products, such as the binary Office formats that still remain undocumented and very much closed, and the Windows server interoperability protocols that remain a sticking point for European Union regulators.

Still, we applaud Microsofts leaders for the changes they have made in the companys approach. We call on those leaders to transform these promising initiatives into a coherent policy that will apply across the companys entire product line.

IT users deserve a market in which products compete based neither on the threat of attacks from patent arsenals nor on fluency in secret languages but, rather, on their quality of execution and ability to serve enterprise customers. We think Microsoft can and should be a strong competitor on this new playing field.

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eWeeks Editorial Board consists of Jason Brooks, Larry Dignan, Stan Gibson, Scot Petersen and Lisa Vaas.

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