Week in review: Microsoft the magnanimous?

Microsoft says it wants to be more open with other software makers, while Toshiba closes down HD DVD. Also: Gates wants Yahoo for the people.

Microsoft says it wants to get along better with other software makers.

Company executives detailed steps they say will help the software giant comply with antitrust legal requirements and announced changes in its business practices to work better with software from other providers, including open-source communities. Microsoft plans to publish reams of documentation around its communication protocols to make it easier for third parties to connect to Microsoft products.

It also pledged not to sue open-source developers who create noncommercial software based on Microsoft's protocols.

The measures build on previous commitments to interoperability, standards support, and dialogue with open-source developers that the company has made over the past three years.

Specifically, Microsoft said it will publish the documentation for the application programming interfaces and communications protocols in its "high-volume products." Developers do not need to buy a license or pay a royalty to access the information.

As a first step, Microsoft will publish protocols for communicating with Windows Server, which had previously only been available under a trade secret license. Protocols for interoperability with Office 2007 will be published in the coming months, the company said.

Microsoft said the pledge will ultimately extend to Windows Vista, the .Net Framework, Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007.

Executives said the steps will help it comply with obligations dictated by the European Court of First Instance in September, as well as help Microsoft compete in a marketplace that increasingly values interconnected systems.

"In a more connected, services-oriented world...one of the greatest value-adds in some sense is what people do on the other end of the wire," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said.

However, the European Commission expressed doubt regarding the announcement claiming a move toward greater interoperability. In a statement, the Commission said that while it would welcome greater interoperability, Microsoft had made similar announcements before.

"The Commission would welcome any move towards genuine interoperability," the statement says. "Nonetheless, the Commission notes that today's announcement follows at least four similar statements by Microsoft in the past on the importance of interoperability."

CNET News.com readers appeared suspicious of Microsoft's announcement, as well as a little bitter.

"This latest 'generous' offering of cooperation evidences only the final capitulation of a band of thugs who now realize they can no longer bully their way around the sandbox, and are thus facing up to the reality that their fake technology will likely be irrelevant with a decade," wrote one reader to the News.com TalkBack forum.

Although programmers now are apparently free to reproduce the software, Microsoft's generosity ends when the software crosses the threshold from project to commercial product.

"Microsoft is providing a covenant not to sue open-source developers for development or noncommercial distribution of implementations of these protocols," the company said. "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."

In other Microsoft news, the software giant stopped automatically distributing a prerequisite piece of software for Vista Service Pack 1, following some customer complaints that it had caused system problems. Servicing stack update KB937287, released last week, contained updates to Windows Vista installation software, and was billed as being "necessary to successfully install and to remove Windows Vista SP1 (Service Pack 1) on all versions of Windows Vista."

Microsoft published a list of programs that will not work or that will suffer from reduced functionality after the installation of Vista Service Pack 1. The list of programs consists mostly of security applications, such as Trend Micro Internet Security 2008. However, programs such as The New York Times Reader application also feature on the list. Users are advised to install updates from the application vendor to fix the problem.

The list is not considered to be comprehensive, and Microsoft has asked users who encounter problems with other applications to first restart their PC and, if they still encounter problems, to install a newer version of the program or contact the software vendor.

The software maker also said that it plans on March 11 to deliver the first update to Office 2008 for Mac, delivering several key fixes. At the same time though, it has again pushed out the release of converters needed by users of Office 2004 to read documents saved in the new XML file formats used by Office 2007 for Windows.

For Toshiba, when it rain it pours, so the company threw in the towel on its HD DVD format.

The deluge began in January at the Consumer Electronics Show when Warner Bros. Entertainment announced that it would stop making HD DVD discs and will become a Blu-ray-only studio at the end of May. That move was soon followed by online video rental company Netflix, electronics retailer Best Buy, and retail giant Wal-Mart Stores.

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