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Memo angers open source advocates

Users call Redmond's contemplated Internet strategy "sinister" and all too typical of the software giant.

An internal Microsoft memo that found its way to the Web is raising the hackles of developers and users alike because it contemplates an Internet strategy some call "sinister" and all too typical of the software giant.

Warning that the growing popularity of Linux and other so-called open source software (OSS) poses a direct threat to Microsoft's revenue stream, the "Halloween memo" suggests the company could respond by modifying open Internet protocols to become proprietary technologies that tie consumers to Microsoft products.

"OSS projects have been able to gain a foothold in many server applications because of the wide utility of high commoditized, simple protocols," the memo states. "By extending these protocols and developing new protocols, we can deny OSS projects entry into the market."

Written by Microsoft engineer Vinod Valloppillil as a research exercise for upper management, the Halloween memo was posted on the Web by open source advocate Eric S. Raymond.

The idea of modifying open standards has open source advocates and software consumers seeing red. "This is downright sinister, and even though the memo is [written] by an engineer, it reflects an attitude which is particularly important considering the DOJ case," Rahul Dave, a programmer, said in an email to CNET News.Com.

"The most important revelation that comes out that document is that Microsoft is planning to subvert the open standards [such as Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standards] in order to neutralize the threat of OSS," said Subhas Roy in another email message.

Microsoft "claims loudly that its actions are motivated by helping the consumer, even though at each step it only limits and coerces the consumer," wrote Steven D. Arnold.

Going further, Tim O'Reilly, president and CEO of software maker and publisher O'Reilly & Associates, today issued an open letter to Microsoft deriding the company's tactics.

O'Reilly claims open source-type development created the Internet, opening up new revenue possibilities for Microsoft. "Lacking the Internet, you would have to rely on such dubious innovations as Microsoft Bob to drive upgrade revenue," O"Reilly wrote. "And now you want to undermine open source? Try to be serious!"

O'Reilly and others point to companies including IBM, Oracle, and Informix Software that are supporting Linux with new products.

In response, Microsoft claims that like other software makers, it must innovate on top of existing standards in order to survive. Sometimes that means adding Microsoft-specific technology to a standard protocol, the company says.

"Microsoft has to innovate beyond standard protocols. We would lose differentiation if we did not, and we would not be able to solve problems that other people could solve if we stayed with standard protocols," according to Ed Muth, enterprise marketing group manager at Microsoft.

"Our strategy is to find ways to solve customer problems that are not being solved by commodity protocols," Muth said.

The Halloween memo identifies several examples where Microsoft believes it is extending standard protocols to its advantage. They include integrating the Domain Name Service with the company's Active Directory technology and extending HTTP and middleware.

The memo also suggests that Microsoft will use its proprietary storage application programming interface, Storage+, a part of the company's revamped and extended COM services, to combat Apache, the open source Web server. Storage+ "changes the rules of the game in the file [server computer] space (a key Linux/Apache application)," the memo states.

That sort of competitive positioning scares developers working on projects based on open standards and open source code. "We'd never have had the Web were it for Microsoft. We'd have had a protocol called http-ms," wrote Rahul Dave.

"It's clear that now they [Microsoft] want to own the protocols for digital media," said Tom Harding in an email. "To see this, look no further than your own front page, which often sports an advertisement inviting readers to download the Windows Media Player.

"Owning APIs, protocols, and file formats is what Microsoft is all about," he wrote.