It’s a long story and a complicated arrangement, but the developers of the open-source Samba file-sharing (aka work group server) software finally have access to the Microsoft protocol information promised in both the US and EU antitrust settlements. In a nut shell:
Microsoft was compelled to make this information available following a March 24, 2004, European Commission antitrust ruling against the company. In July 2006, the EU fined Microsoft €280.5 million ($338.6 million at that time) for failing to provide documentation on Windows protocols to its rivals. Microsoft lost an appeal of that decision in September, setting the stage for the deal.
The deal was signed with a nonprofit group called the Protocol Freedom Information Foundation, (PFIF) which negotiated on behalf of the Samba team because Samba is not represented by a corporate entity. PFIF will pay a one-time fee of €10,000 and, in return, will be able to allow open-source developers, including the Samba team, to access the documents.
Developers will have to sign nondisclosure agreements and will not be allowed to redistribute Microsoft’s documentation, but they will be able to write open-source software that implements the Windows protocols. The deal will also clarify which patents Microsoft believes are related to this technology, making it easier for open-source developers to avoid patent violations.
Antitrust rulings forced Microsoft to set up protocol-licensing programs in the past, including the MCPP (Microsoft Communications Protocol Program) and the WSPP (Work Group Server Protocol Program), but these efforts were not compatible with open-source software licenses.
The licensing and the patents were the crux of the problem and while the Samba folks were chugging on with reverse engineering, this will make their job considerably easier without restricting Samba open source availability. It also solves a sticky problem for Microsoft in that Samba was the only major competitive workgroup server implementation still standing and having nobody to share protocol information with on Microsoft’s terms was liable to rouse the ire of the European Commission.