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January 25, 2006

Microsoft offers source licenses to resolve EC complaint

Posted by David Hunter at 9:41 AM ET.

The formal press release from Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith’s Brussels press conference isn’t available yet, but here’s the gist from the wire services:


Microsoft Corp.’s top lawyer said on Wednesday that the U.S. software giant would offer licences for some of its source codes in a bid to comply with antitrust requirements set by the European Commission.

“We will also license the Windows source code itself,” Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith told a news conference. He added he did not know what percentage of the company’s source codes would be licensed.

The source code is the best documentation,” he said.

“All the source codes cover all the technologies covered by the European Commission’s remedies.”

Smith also said Microsoft was not closing the door to other compliance steps.

“We are opening the door to a new step — we are not seeking to close the door on any old steps,” he said.


Microsoft Corp. said Wednesday it will license its Windows source code to comply with a European Union antitrust ruling.

The source code provides the building blocks of the operating system that competitors need to make products compatible with Windows.

The company’s chief counsel Brad Smith said called the move “a bold stroke.”

Microsoft has refused to license the source code in the past. Software developers still will have to pay for the code, which open source advocates will not be allowed to “publish for free,” Smith cautioned. The company had “just started to provide this information on both sides on the Atlantic” and regulators “want to see all the details,” Smith added.

In related news, the European Union’s Court of First Instance announced that a hearing on Microsoft’s appeal against the Commission decision of March 2004 would be held from April 24 to 28. Microsoft is supposed to comply with the decision pending appeal and this latest kerfuffle is due to the EC’s December ordering of penalties because of what they deemed to be inadequate compliance.

Update: The press release is now available – Microsoft Goes Beyond EU Decision by Offering Windows Source Code:

Today, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith announced Microsoft’s decision to license all the Windows Server source code for the technologies covered by the European Commission’s Decision of March 2004. The company is making this voluntary move in order to address categorically all of the issues raised by the Commission’s December 22, 2005 Statement of Objections. That document asserted that Microsoft’s prior technical documentation provided insufficient information to enable licensees to implement successfully certain Windows Server communications protocols.

With today’s announcement, Microsoft is going far beyond the European Commission’s March 2004 decision and its legal obligations to provide companies with the technical specifications of its proprietary communications protocols. A reference license to the Windows Server source code will provide software developers the most precise and authoritative description possible of the Windows protocol technologies. With it, software developers will be entitled to view the Windows source code in order to better understand how to develop products that interoperate with Windows, but not to copy Microsoft’s source code.

“We have now come to the conclusion that the only way to be certain of satisfying the Commission’s demands is to go beyond the 2004 Decision and offer a license to the source code of the Windows server operating system,” said Smith. “While we are confident that we are presently in full compliance with the Decision we wish to dispel any notion that Microsoft’s technical documents are insufficient.”

Microsoft has a similar protocol licensing program that was established in the United States pursuant to a consent decree there, covering certain protocols in the Windows desktop operating system. More than 20 companies have taken licenses to Microsoft’s protocols under that program and many are shipping products incorporating such protocols. To continue to foster consistency between both licensing programs, Microsoft has decided to make available for the desktop protocols the same reference license for source code it is offering for server protocols, and the company will provide competition authorities in the United States with information so they can consider the matter.

Since the licensing terms are a perennial bone of contention with the open source community, I don’t think this is going to fly or that Microsoft really expects it to.

Filed under General Business, Governmental Relations, Legal, Open Source, Piracy, Public Relations

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One Response to “Microsoft offers source licenses to resolve EC complaint”

  1. Microsoft News Tracker » European Commission to study Microsoft source offer Says:

    [...] Today’s Microsoft offer to license some some source code as a way out of of its European antitrust difficulties drew the obvious response: “The European Commission will study carefully the announcement made by Microsoft,” the European Union executive said in a statement. [...]

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