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Microsoft's Source Code Pledge Raises Questions

Microsoft's decision to open up its Windows server source code sparked a lot of reaction from folks following the Microsoft-European Union antitrust case.

But analysts and U.S. coalitions dedicated to government regulation on technology disagree as to how much Microsoft is really giving away.

During a press conference from Brussels today, top Microsoft lawyer Brad Smith said the software giant will offer developers the right to view Windows server so long as they already have a Windows server license under the European Commission's plan.

Advocates for U.S. pro-competition groups painted a bleak picture upon hearing the news.

Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology, said Microsoft is giving away too much and could set "dangerous precedents" for intellectual property protections that affect all companies doing business in Europe.

Representatives from the Americans for Technology Leadership (ATL) said the EC is "holding Microsoft hostage."

"By constantly pressuring the company to go further in disclosing their intellectual property by threatening larger fines and more legal action, the Commission has essentially held the company hostage and put it in a position where it must surrender more of its valuable intellectual property before a European Court has reviewed the merits of the Commission's original claims on appeal," the group said.

But Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff said it's clear that Microsoft is not giving away all of the source code for Windows server.

Instead, it is providing source code under a reference license to help programmers solve problems they encounter while using Microsoft's current documentation to build Windows-compatible products.

"They are licensing a specific subset related to the protocols the EU demanded more documentation on," Rosoff said in an interview today.

Rosoff said that efforts to meet the EU's request for documentation that will allow rivals to build non-Microsoft products that work with Windows are taking longer than Microsoft anticipated.

In the meantime, and before the February 15 deadline the EU posed for responding to requests for more information, the company decided to license source code under a reference license.

Microsoft has done this for years for enterprise customers and academics, and has documented Windows communications protocols it was ordered to share with competitors as a condition of its 2001 US antitrust settlement with the Department of Justice.

In other words, it's business as usual. A step along the long path to meeting the demands of the EU.

Jupiter Research* analyst Joe Wilcox said in an interview that Microsoft spurred more questions than it offered answers to with Wednesday's announcements.

He noted that Microsoft didn't say how much source code would be licensed, but that he expects Microsoft isn't giving up any crown jewels.

He also said Microsoft didn't specify licensing terms, noting that how code is licensed and for what purpose has been an ongoing point of contention between Microsoft and the EU.

"The EU wants licensed code to be available for use in open-source and free software, a request Microsoft has resisted," Wilcox said. "I would be shocked if that position has significantly changed."

He also wondered if there is a time limit on the licensing.

EU courts gave Microsoft the option to pull the disputed protocol licensing program should Microsoft win on appeal. Microsoft needs to address whether the source code licensing would continue, even if the company prevails on appeal, he said.

Microsoft's actions struck another curious note with Wilcox.

Microsoft is already licensing protocols to the U.S. government, but US officials have expressed dissatisfaction with the program's progress, as recently as this week.

"How can Microsoft reasonably promise to do more in Europe when it presumably isn't doing enough in the US?" Wilcox said.

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