Critics: Microsoft server license snubs open source

Proposed server interoperability license--demanded by the EU--will shut the door on open-source software such as Samba, say critics.

The Free Software Foundation is lobbying the European government to reject the server license that Microsoft has proposed following the European Commission's antitrust ruling.

Microsoft's terms, says the FSF, will mean that open-source software such as the widely used Samba file and print server software, will not be included in the interoperability measures intended by the EU.

Earlier this week Microsoft said it would not appeal an EC court order to immediately implement antitrust sanctions, although it still hopes to overturn last year's antitrust ruling. To comply with the ruling, Microsoft has agreed to grant licenses to rival makers of server software to allow them to write applications that can "achieve full interoperability" with Windows client and server operating systems. This license must be granted on "reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms," according to an EU statement.

The proposed license, called the WSPP Development Agreement, requires the payment of royalties to Microsoft to grant licensees the right to use Microsoft technical documentation to implement Microsoft server protocols, according to license information on the Microsoft Web site.

But, Carlo Piana, a partner at Milan law firm Tamos Piana & Partners, which represents FSF Europe, said the agreement is not compatible with free software and that FSF is hoping the EC will ask Microsoft to revise it.

"The conditions are unreasonable and discriminate against free software--it is impossible for a product under (the General Public License) to agree to this license," said Piano. "We are trying to lobby the commission to change this."

Free software organizations cannot sign the Microsoft license, as it requires royalty payments for every copy sold and stipulates that programs which are built using the licensed information are closed source, according to Piano.

He said this will particularly affect Samba, an open-source software package that allows Windows files and printers to be shared by Unix and Linux systems.

"The agreement requires a per-copy license--any time you sell a product you must pay a royalty," said Piano. "This prevents Samba from accessing the scheme, as they have no way to control the number of copies distributed and don't know how many copies have been distributed."

If Samba is not able to license the agreement, it will be difficult for it to continue to remain interoperable with Microsoft, according to Piano. "Samba is the only alternative now for having different operating systems access Microsoft NT or 2000 servers," said Piano. "This (license) forecloses the only alternative."

Microsoft has been unable to provide a copy of the full license agreement to Builder UK, but did say that the license can be used by anyone. "The license offers the same terms to all--anybody who wants to take the license is free to do so," said a Microsoft representative.

Ingrid Marson of reported from London.

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