The EU opens up Microsoft. Kind of. Sort of. Not really?

Is the software giant getting off too easily with the EU? With all the hoopla surrounding Microsoft's capitulation to the EU's demands over interoperability, it's important to remember just how far the deal doesn't go.

With all the hoopla surrounding Microsoft's capitulation to the EU's demands over interoperability (see this and this, for example, though business journalist Dana Blankenhorn rightly yawns), it's important to remember just how far the deal doesn't go.

Mark Webbink, former Red Hat general counsel, explains:

So what has been accomplished? The Commission appears to have successfully forced Microsoft to open its work group server protocols to viewable access by all, including open-source developers. It also appears to have assured that such developers will be able to implement the protocols, at least from a copyright and/or trade secret perspective. At the same time, the Commission appears to have been unable to change Microsoft's stance on the patent issue other than drastically reducing the royalty that Microsoft is to be paid. (N.B.--Having started out demanding 5.95 percent as a comprehensive royalty and finally agreeing to a low 0.4 percent comprehensive royalty, all of a sudden those "highly valuable" Microsoft patents don't look so valuable any more.)

So we are left with half a loaf, and perhaps that is the best the Commission could do under the law and under the circumstances. I, for one, just wish the Commission had gone a bit easier on the open-source rhetoric. It is misleading from the standpoint that the settlement does not resolve all or even the biggest issues that open source will have with implementing these protocols. Why give Microsoft the public relations benefit of insisting it is open source friendly when it clearly isn't? I can't wait to see the limitations of the patent pledge alluded to in the press release and how Microsoft plays that one up.

Is it positive news? Yes. Is it the news that the open-source media is making of it? Probably not. Lower royalties, but no diminution of Microsoft's anti-open source rhetoric and anti-open source patent policies. It's just cheaper to use them now, but no cheaper to litigate them.

Are we better off? I'm not so sure.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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