Microsoft unveils source code to the EU... so what?

The EU wants more...

By Adrian Stanciu   29 Jan 2006, 13:27 GMT
Most likely, Microsoft and the EU will never be buddies and based on where the two organizations come from and the history they have up till now, it would take a miracle to sign a peace treaty between them. But for now, things aren't heading towards that happy ending.

Microsoft's monopoly on the software market has been debated only a few million times by the media, the European Union and even anti-trust organizations in Korea. And Microsoft hasn't been hearing only about written recommendations or complaints and by now fines worth millions are common for Microsoft's lawyers. Only last December, the company was fined $32 million dollars by the Korea Fair Trade Commission. That was only a joke compared to the fine the European Union ordered Microsoft to pay in March 2004 which was worth 497 million euros. That wasn't all, the company was also ordered to share code with rivals and offer a version of Windows without Media Player software. And things got only "better" for the Redmond giant, as antitrust enforcers in Europe warned Microsoft Corp. late last December that it faces fines of up to $2.3 million a day if it fails to quickly comply with orders to make it easier for rival firms' products to work with Microsoft's widely used Windows computer operating system. That didn't scare Microsoft too much, and an army of lawyers responded by condemning the European Commission for taking such drastic measures without even going through the entire documentation that Microsoft had provided prior.

Still, the battle between Microsoft and the European Commission reached a point that few had predicted, that of making the source code for Windows Workgroup Server available to certain licensees, which is a obviously a settlement. But this peace offering, which in this form is unprecedented for the company, didn't exactly impress the European Union, who considered it to be insufficient. The European officials dismissed the company's efforts and the conclusion of this league of negotiations was that in order for this information to have real substance and to be used in order to solve the interoperability issue, Microsoft also needed to provide walkthroughs and very detailed guides related to the source code it had already provided. Not only did the Commission not appreciate Microsoft's gesture, but it also highlighted that it never requested the company to publish the source code but only to provide a road map that would show other companies how to make their products work with Microsoft.

Not even rival companies showed more enthusiasm about this publishing of the source code and are questioning the usability of the information Microsoft has actually offered as a part of this source code licensing. Still, that doesn't necessarily mean that these changes aren't taken into consideration and that Microsoft has exposed much of its secrets which could now be cloned. On the other hand, out of the 12,000 pages of documentation that Microsoft released, just how important are they compared to the overall picture and is this information really essential? What if Microsoft is just throwing dust in everyone's eyes, at least for a little while until things clear up?

For now, only one thing is certain ... no one is happy with what the other party is doing. On one side of the story there's Microsoft, who thinks that after publishing the source code, the European Commission should not have had any other demands. So, for Microsoft, this is a done deal. On the other hand, The European Commission has so much documentation on its hands it doesn't even know where to start "translating" it in order to make the best of this situation. So, the first thing it does is blame Microsoft for not providing the "How to's" and proper walkthroughs to decipher the source code puzzle.

And still, someone needs to be taught a lesson from all this and chances are that the "someone" is going to be Microsoft, which is still only barely dodging the "daily fines" bullet. This is a risky business for even Microsoft, as it could end up paying an enormous amount of money. So, negotiations are still in order. Microsoft can't even brag on about how it made the CE an exclusive favor by publishing the source code as it is known it had done so on several other occasions, licensing code for Windows to a variety of partners, large customers, educational institutions and others. So the European Commission isn't getting any special favors. But the fact that Microsoft preferred to comply with some of the Commission's requests instead of paying more fines (as it usually does) must mean something. Why did the company choose to play safe, or safer? Why the sudden change of heart? That's not so obvious. But still, the Redmond giant must have taken all precautions in order to protect the information it provided and the licensing terms must be really restrictive. Basically, if let's say company X wants to partially use the code, will it be able to do so? And how much will it cost?

Still, we can only appreciate the fact that Microsoft is cooling down and is starting to comply with the European Union's demands, as it has done when releasing the Windows XP Edition N operating system. It was obvious that the product was destined to fail miserably, which it did, but still, releasing it was a show of good faith. Will there be any others?

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