Microsoft admit anti-trust defeat and offer up APIs and IP to competitors & open source community

! Warning: this post hasn't been updated in over three years and so may contain out of date information.

ms_peeps.jpgI listened to my my first “virtual press conference” today given by Microsoft. I certainly picked a big one as my first. I actually got to hear Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, say the words “open source” without spitting, swearing or making any negative remarks! What is the world coming to?

Well the world is coming to its senses and realises that it doesn’t have to be scared of Microsoft and Microsoft is coming to its senses and realising that it cannot own the world (and will just have to be happy with a significant chunk of it.) So the press release was the final fling in a long and probably very painful process of Microsoft opening itself up to its competitors and to the open source community. Today Microsoft announced the launch of its four new interoperability principles:

  1. Ensuring open connections
  2. Promoting data portability
  3. Enhancing support for industry standards
  4. Fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities.

So what does that all mean? Well translated it means:

  • Microsoft have promised to publish the APIs and communications protocols for all their high volume products (Vista, Office 2007, Sharepoint 2007, Exchange 2007, Server 2008). No license will be required to access this information.
  • Open source developers can freely use these communication protocols without having to pay royalties and without fear of being sued. Commercial use must be paid for.
  • Recent forays into open source with collaborations with the Mono, MySQL and PHP teams is due to continue and become part of how Microsoft works.
  • As a start, Microsoft will be adding some 3,000 extra pages of API information to MSDN so that everyone – not just those that have bought trade secret licenses – can access the information.

Why have they done this? Well clearly the EU can take a lot of the credit with its dogged pursuit of anti-trust cases against Microsoft. The bigger picture though is likely simply a realisation within Microsoft that open source isn’t going to go away. Having won the browser war, they have watched Firefox erode that dominant position for example. That they now own nearly the entire paid-for development tool market has meant that universities now routinely teach LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL & PHP) and Java as they are free development environments. Perhaps the weight of arguably the world’s most powerful political bloc, combined with the quiet determination of the open source community, has finally broken the Microsoft bronco?

Whatever the reasons though, this has certainly been a historic day for software developers, both within the Microsoft fold and without.

Read, watch and listen to full details of the press release here.