Microsoft Sings a New Tune—Wants to Play Nice With Open-Source

microosft-interoperability.pngWow, Ray Ozzie is really changing the culture at Microsoft. Or maybe it’s just been beaten down by anti-trust regulators in the EU. After years in denial, Redmond has finally decided to stop trying to fight open-source software. In a series of moves announced today aimed at making its products more interoperable with other software and the Web in general, Microsoft is releasing 30,000 pages of documentation for Windows (both desktop and server products) that were previously available to partners only through a trade secret license. It is making available new licenses to a large number of its software patents “on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, at low royalty rates.” And the company is making the following pledge (which we’ve heard before) to open-source developers:

Microsoft is providing a covenant not to sue open source developers for development or non-commercial distribution of implementations of these protocols. These developers will be able to use the documentation for free to develop products. Companies that engage in commercial distribution of these protocol implementations will be able to obtain a patent license from Microsoft, as will enterprises that obtain these implementations from a distributor that does not have such a patent license.

While Microsoft is not open-sourcing its own software, it is taking dramatic steps to play nice with the open-source community. This is a complete 180-degree turn from its stance of the past. The broad set of interoperability principles it is announcing today will apply to the following products (including future versions): Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007. The four principles it is declaring are:

(1) ensuring open connections
(2) promoting data portability
(3) enhancing support for industry standards
(4) fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities.

It will release documentation for all APIs of the products above, will lay out how it supports industry standards, will create new APIs for Microsoft Office to make it easier for developers to create plug-ins for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and will launch an Open Source Interoperability Initiative to promote interoperability between open-source and Microsoft products.

Microsoft has a lot of work to do to build trust with the open-source community, which it has alienated over the years. Simply making an announcement is not going to cut it, especially if the reason for this action is primarily to get the European Court off its back. But whatever the motivation, if the announcement is followed up by a sincere change in attitude and serious actions Microsoft has an opportunity here to really build up trust with the open-source community. That is something it will need to do anyway if it succeeds in acquiring Yahoo. What else could Microsoft do to prove that it has changed its stripes? Comments are open.

Microsoft has set up a Website with more information here.

Can Open-Source Developers Finally Trust Microsoft?

Total Votes: 1612
Started: February 21, 2008