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Samba licenses Microsoft docs for compatibility improvements

According to an article at Information Week, Microsoft and the Samba team have cut a deal to improve the compatibility between Samba (Linux's MS-compatible network file-sharing software) and Microsoft's operating systems. This 'deal', according to the way I understand it, is not without its pitfalls. The deal that the Samba developers had to make to get access to the compatibility code was to pay $10,000 to Microsoft for a 'license' and also agree to not disclose the protocols listed in said manuals.

Unfortunately, Samba is Open Source. This means that even when the Samba developers roll these code changes in, the code will be visible as open source even if the documentation isn't there. So, I don't see exactly how this deal is going to work. If the terms are not to disclose the protocols, then they can't really keep Samba open source or risk a license violation. Alternatively, the Samba developers will have to build binary modules to be distributed with the source that can be compiled in when the final source is compiled. The other option is that they no longer make Samba open source and release only binaries. By releasing binary modules or the full Samba package only as binary, they don't risk exposure of the protocols, but it also makes parts/all of Samba no longer open source. Frankly, hobbling Samba's open source status strictly to fulfill Microsoft's deal just doesn't seem right even if it makes the software more compatible.

Ultimately, I'm just not seeing the benefit that this deal has to the open source community. Should the Samba developer team include the code in the source and also keep it all open source, then the developers will risk having violated Microsoft's agreement to not share the documented protocols. If the Samba team eliminates the open source status of Samba, that will hinder many people's ability to see the code and modify it themselves. Personally, I'd prefer them to keep the source open. If that means less compatibility, then so be it. If they have to close the source to keep the terms of the Microsoft deal, then I think they just spent $10,000 for nothing.

I'm actually more concerned by the motives behind this deal. It certainly appears that Microsoft wants control over Samba (and ultimately Linux) and this may be the first step to getting it. By inking such a deal, this means Microsoft will end up having very strict control over a very popular and widely installed open source project or the project risks legal battles. This looks to me like the first salvo has been launched by Microsoft towards Linux (by taking control of Samba).

This is not the author, Serdar Yegulalp's, opinion on Information Week. He seems to think it's more benign and actually a good thing for Linux. He even goes on to say how it looks like Microsoft may be caving towards Linux. But, if the Samba team integrates the code from the MS manual, then releases it to open source, this gives Microsoft all the ammo it needs to take out Samba. Worse, Microsoft could ride this deal out for months until Samba rolls into several major Linux distributions and then fire a volley at all of them at the same time over legal issues. At that point, there will be no defense.

The Samba guys better be careful with this one.


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In reply to: Samba licenses Microsoft docs for compatibility improvements

Documentation being closed doesn't mean the code has to be. This situation is quite common in open source actually, with many drivers being developed from hardware makers documentation.
Source code is a lot harder to read than documentation it seems. In other words developers would much prefer to read documentation than reverse engineer something.

Anyway I think the EU should do more. Require that this documentation is made public. And require microsoft release documentation for NTFS also, as read/write NTFS has always been problematic on unix.

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Licensing agreement interpretations

In reply to: Well

Consider that its Microsoft we're talking about. The fact that MS has recently been concerned over MS source appearing in Linux (which is why they were rattling their patent saber), I don't think I'd want to chance this based on my own interpretation of MS's licensing agreement. This definitely (and inadvertently) gives Microsoft the ability for a legal challenge. So, were I in the position of making the call of including MS proprietary specifications into an open source product, I think I would decline unless MS gave me explicit written permission to allow the release of any code I wrote based on the specs.

So far, I don't think that MS has given explicit written permission to the Samba crew to allow open sourcing of the MS CIFS specifications no matter who writes the code. So, I think I'd still be wary.

Brian W.

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