EU-Microsoft Settlement Brings Shoulder Shrugs -- But Wait

Kachina Shaw

With the news that Microsoft had reached an agreement with the European Commission yesterday to cooperate with the ruling body's 2004 antitrust ruling, which the company has been appealing in the interim, the response was not quite as boisterous as might have been expected.


The reservation comes, apparently, from doubts about whether Microsoft will fully comply with the agreement's requirements regarding the release of information to third-party developers on protocols those developers say they need for interoperability -- and stick to its much-lowered rates for patent-licensing fees for those development projects.


It's no surprise. It's de rigueur among the open source elite and media, and that's who we're really talking about here, of course, to be outraged to the point of hyperventilation that Microsoft can use its evil ways to outmaneuver their desires to reduce its power in the tech marketplace -- and then to sigh with disappointment when a door to interoperability is opened. It's all so exhausting.


ZDNet's Dana Blankenhorn blogs that the agreement will benefit some: proprietary software developers. Reverse engineering at the network file-sharing level, he and his sources say, negates the need for open source development projects to concern themselves with protocol sharing, even if it now will address server-to-server, not just server-to-PC, yada, yada, yada, they don't care. But the agreement states, according to, that Microsoft will not assert patents associated with the released interoperability information with non-commercial open source projects. Commercial projects will pay a 0.4 percent of revenue royalty fee for those patents, as opposed to the previously set 5.95 percent rate.


The message seems to be that non-commercial open source projects won't be concerned with the benefits to commercial open source projects, commercial open source projects won't be concerned with the benefits to non-commercial open source projects, and none of them cares to see the EU agreement fulfill the body's stated goals of increasing innovation and competition by helping proprietary development projects along. So much for the solidarity of the open source community.


In more balanced, but still double-edged, analysis, Linux Foundation COO Dan Kohn told The Financial Times that the settlement would, indeed, benefit projects like Samba, at least by reducing its "Windows tax."


Short of seeing Microsoft's existence snuffed out, I doubt any Redmond-related news could bring much of a smile to the open source community's face. There seem only to be variations on the frown, and I expect to see some permanent frown lines emerging from this little tidbit from Steve Ballmer's comments at a Web 2.0 Summit last week:

We will do some buying of companies that are built around open source products.

Do you think these two stories will converge to allow Microsoft to mitigate any revenue loss or slowdown created by reducing those licensing rates and opening those protocols by acquiring a number of open source companies and bringing non-commercial projects in-house, if necessary? I do.

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