Microsoft pledges not to sue over open source

As part of a new interoperability strategy, software maker says it won't take legal action against those who develop open-source products, CNET News.com has learned.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
2 min read

Microsoft's top executives are set to announce a broad interoperability strategy that includes an agreement not to sue open-source developers for products that connect to Microsoft software, a source familiar with the company's plans told CNET News.com.

The software maker had already taken baby steps in this direction, signing individual pacts with companies like Novell and Turbolinux, as well as agreeing not to sue individual developers.

The company has scheduled a conference call at 8:30 a.m. PST on Thursday to discuss the news. Among the executives on the call are CEO Steve Ballmer, Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, server and tools head Bob Muglia, and General Counsel Brad Smith.

Ozzie and Ballmer
Ray Ozzie (left) and Steve Ballmer. Microsoft

Update: Microsoft issued its press release with more details.

Microsoft on Thursday announced changes in its business practices to work better with software from other providers, including open-source communities.

It laid out four principles aimed at making its high-volume enterprise software support standards and better handling data from non-Microsoft software.

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.

Microsoft said that it will not sue open-source developers who create non-commercial software based on Microsoft's protocols.

The company also said that it will provide new application programming interfaces to developers so that Office 2007 can better work with document formats. The company does not natively support the alternative Open Document Format, or ODF, standard in Office 2007.

Although it does not mention ODF specifically in its release, Microsoft also launched a Document Interoperability Initiative to "address data exchange between widely deployed formats."

Microsoft said the Open Source Interoperability Initiative will foster a better working relationship with open-source projects, and will provide technical assistance, such as interoperability testing.

Through a previously created Interoperability Executive Customer (IEC) Council, Microsoft will seek to create a better "(dialogue) and outreach" with partners, customers, and developers on the subject of interoperability.

In a statement, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said these steps are part of the company's efforts to comply with antitrust obligations laid out by the European Court of First Instance (CFI).

"As we said immediately after the CFI decision last September, Microsoft is committed to taking all necessary steps to ensure we are in full compliance with European law," Smith said.

CNET News.com's Martin LaMonica contributed to this report.