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AT&T contract obliges MS to make its APIs public

Grief - have AT&T's attorneys cunningly set Bill on the road to open source?

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Long-standing Microsoft critic Senator Orrin Hatch was querying AT&T's alliance with Microsoft yesterday, and there was a nasty little hand grenade for Redmond in what he had to say. Would it be a good idea to have a "third party" appointed to make sure Microsoft gave other software companies fair access to its APIs? Oh dear. If this is the way Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is thinking, Microsoft could be in for another rough ride. Hatch was questioning AT&T chairman Michael Armstrong as part of Committee hearings on competition and consumer choice in the high speed Internet market. Armstrong is in a rather ticklish position here, because earlier this year AT&T took delivery of a large pile of Microbucks while agreeing to up its order for Microsoft set-top box software to around 10 million. At the same time, AT&T has an inherited 'open' set-top box strategy (based, indeed on Java). It took delivery of this via an earlier deal with TCI, which had espoused Java while awarding MS a consolation prize of 5 million set-top boxes. So AT&T has the MS alliance and the Microbucks, but as Armstrong assured the Committee yesterday, its strategy is still, er, open. Armstrong didn't like Hatch's idea of a third party (Judge Penfield Jackson might, though) because there was no point to it. It was in AT&T interests to be open and to have competition, and here's the intriguing little nugget: AT&T's deal with Microsoft, he said, requires "as a matter of contract the timely and complete public disclosure of API." Could this be true? It quite probably is, and it only goes to show that Microsoft has at last found itself doing strategic alliance deals with a company with more attorneys than it has. So if one presumes that AT&T is pursuing the old Java-centric open strategy, rather than trying to sneak off into an MSocentric one, access to Microsoft's set-top box software APIs is going to be policed by AT&T. AT&T's cable system, said Armstrong, is open architecture and can work with any set-top box. AT&T's total unit requirement, incidentally, is way in excess of 10 million, so there really is plenty scope for competition. But the notion of Microsoft helping this competition while being observed by gimlet-eyed AT&T lawyers is both eye-rolling and heart-warming. ®

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