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July 6, 2006

The EU and Microsoft: a pox on both their houses

Posted by David Hunter at 11:22 AM ET.

The pernicious unelected bureaucrats of the European Union really ought to look into using Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes as their pin-up girl. When she isn’t coming on as a scolding schoolmarm, she runs an interminable process that makes a sieve look tight with her as the head blabbermouth:

The European Union’s Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said on Thursday she could see no way around fining U.S. software giant Microsoft for breaching the bloc’s antitrust rules.

Asked by reporters whether Microsoft would be fined for breaching competition rules, Kroes said she could not imagine another way.

So much for the integrity of the proceedings. I also imagine that the scent of big bucks in the offing must be like blood in the water to the perennially penurious functionaries in Brussels. More junkets ahead!

But as long as I am passing out brickbats, Microsoft surely deserves a few for their clumsy approach to dealing with the Eurocrats. The European Commission’s March 2004 judgement against Microsoft was amazingly sparse in the set of nits they decided to pick:

As regards tying, Microsoft is required, within 90 days, to offer to PC manufacturers a version of its Windows client PC operating system without WMP. The un-tying remedy does not mean that consumers will obtain PCs and operating systems without media players. Most consumers purchase a PC from a PC manufacturer which has already put together on their behalf a bundle of an operating system and a media player. As a result of the Commission’s remedy, the configuration of such bundles will reflect what consumers want, and not what Microsoft imposes.

As regards interoperability, Microsoft is required, within 120 days, to disclose complete and accurate interface documentation which would allow non-Microsoft work group servers to achieve full interoperability with Windows PCs and servers. This will enable rival vendors to develop products that can compete on a level playing field in the work group server operating system market. The disclosed information will have to be updated each time Microsoft brings to the market new versions of its relevant products.

Microsoft deftly fixed the first one by shipping Windows XP N without Windows Media Player and pricing it the same as regular Windows XP. Then they sat back and had a good laugh while nobody cared.

However, on the second remedy, Microsoft managed to fumble the ball. Microsoft claims they didn’t really know what the Commission wanted until a hearing in April of this year, but there’s a general belief that Microsoft was stiff arming the bureaucrats and got caught. In the press I have seen theories that this was because it meant revealing the “crown jewels” and that Microsoft might even be better off paying the $2.5 million a day fine rather than complying. Sorry, but I’m not buying it.

Work group serving means file and printer sharing with the associated identity and authorization management and that was reverse engineered long ago by the Samba team who only have some arcana in Active Directory left to duplicate because they won’t license the protocols made available under the US antitrust settlement or recently offered by Microsoft to placate the EU too. Anyone who cares to can implement a Samba “work group server” for Windows clients which, if not completely seamless, is at least functional, so it seems to me that the crown jewels were mostly on display already. Admittedly, Microsoft is making some enhancements to the base SMB protocols in Longhorn Server that they would have had to reveal, but I hardly think that they are critical competitive factors.

Of course, there’s another theory that Microsoft set a crew of monkeys to typing to generate the original 12,000 page document rejected by the Commission (subscription required, excerpts here), which gains credibility from the similar problems that Microsoft had in the USA and the current rush effort to create a new document for the EU. If that’s the case, then the current contretemps is even less understandable.

Microsoft’s objective should be to make this problem go away. If they can sweet talk the authoritarian regime in China into cracking down on software piracy, they ought to be able to handle the bureaucratic regime in Europe. Think of it as a cost of doing business.

Filed under Antitrust, General Business, Governmental Relations, Legal, Media Player, Microsoft, OS - Client, OS - Server, Open Source, SMB2, Samba, Technologies, Windows Server 2008, XP N

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January 25, 2006

Samba 4 beta targets Active Directory

Posted by David Hunter at 7:56 PM ET.

Speaking of licensing Windows Server source code, the developers of Samba, a popular open source Windows-compatible file and print server, just announced a beta of Samba 4:

A next-generation test version of the open-source Samba file-sharing software has been made available, with features emulating Microsoft’s Active Directory ID management software.

The popular Samba suite is an implementation of Microsoft’s SMB (Server Message Block)/CIFS (Common Internet File System) protocol that allows other operating systems to emulate or interoperate with Windows for the purposes of sharing files or printing.

The new version of the software was released Wednesday in conjunction with a speech on the subject by Australia-based Samba creator Andrew Tridgell at the conference in New Zealand.

The point being that Samba, and open source development projects in general, will not license Microsoft source under the terms established for the US source code licensing:

After struggles with the U.S. Justice Department, Microsoft made Windows client protocols available in the U.S. as directed. But the way it implemented licensing agreements was to charge a royalty on each product shipped using the protocols. The move effectively prevented the inclusion of the protocols in open-source code, since the General Public License that governs Linux, Samba, and other open-source code prohibits including anything that requires a royalty payment, Allison says.

Allison says Microsoft’s cooperation with the Samba development team ended in 1999 as Linux’ popularity became a threat in the server market. Now the team accomplishes compatibility with Windows systems through “network analysis”–a more-elegant term than “reverse engineering,” which used to be used to describe Samba’s ability to achieve compatibility.

As for the latest version of Samba, Joshua Wulf reports:

They put in their own LDAP server because of non-standard Microsoft fields, including Security Descriptors, that wouldn’t work well with the MIT LDAP server or Fedora Directory Server.

The Vampire migration tool now has “longer fangs”, and can take over an Active Directory domain. Tridge demonstrated sucking the life out of a Windows 2003 PDC in one click, importing all its user and machine information using SWAT. He then restarted bind on his Samba 4 server, changed the server role to PDC in smb.conf (this will be automatic in the final release), shut down the Windows PDC, and then logged into the domain with an XP client using the new Samba 4 server as the PDC. This elicited suitable oohs and aahs from the audience.

Microsoft has introduced a new protocol – SMB2 – with the latest Vista technology preview, and the boys on the Samba team are having more fun than they’ve had since the 90′s reverse-engineering it, and they have released their implementation, in Samba 4 technology preview, before Microsoft. Booyakasha!

It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, the EC does with the Microsoft source license offer.

Filed under Active Directory, Antitrust, Legal, Open Source, SMB2, Samba, Technologies

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October 27, 2005

SMB2 protocol coming in Longhorn Server

Posted by David Hunter at 3:29 PM ET.

The Server Message Block protocol has a venerable history rooted in the early days of IBM PC LANs and it is getting an update in Longhorn Server. Ward Ralston explains at the Windows Server Division WebLog:

We have listened to our customers on the limitations that were present with the original SMB protocol and have removed the restrictive constants in the protocol so we never need to worry about the protocol itself being the limiting factor for scalability. This includes increasing the number of concurrent open file handles on the server, the number of shares that a server can share out amongst other key enhacements which include:

- SMB2 will have transaction support, i.e. full two-phase commit transactional semantics are available over the new SMB protocol. This takes advantage of the new Transactional File System (TxF) feature in NTFS in Longhorn Server

- Client Side Encryption. This allows over the wire encryption of data, i.e. a file is encrypted on the client and sent out to the server where previously the file would have been sent in the clear over the wire and encrypted on the server

- Support for symbolic links over the new protocol

- Supports an arbitrary extensible way of compounding operations to reduce round trips. This is what will primarily enable less chattiness which has often been a major pain point

- The new protocol supports larger buffer sizes than previously allowed

All of this sounds great, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the SMB protocol and Microsoft proprietary extensions to it played an important part in the various antitrust trials and there will undoubtedly be similar scrutiny of SMB2.

Filed under OS - Server, SMB2, Technologies, Windows Server 2008

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