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Microsoft talks up interoperability

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MS v EC Microsoft took the stand today to try and overturn the European Competition Commission’s decision to force it to improve server interoperability.

The commission case looked at three aspects - file, print, and user directory functions. Microsoft QC Mr Forrester told the court there were clear parallels between the previous two days looking at Media Player and the next two looking at interoperability. He said the commission had again failed to provide evidence of unhappy customers, and said the decision created an immense burden, and enormous fine, on Microsoft. He said although server issues involved more acronyms and technical explanations, at base it was a clear legal issue.

The court was told it took 210 people to create the documentation required by the commission. They reviewed 3.91m lines of code for directory and 4.3m for print. Today, we heard, 75 people are still working full-time on it.

Microsoft recruited retired engineers because much of the code was old. Creating the documentation took 35,000 hours, it is 12,650 pages long, and getting longer as the code is upgraded.

After a potted history of network directory services, Microsoft explained how creating trust relationships between machines running different operating systems allowed them to interoperate to the satisfaction of customers. We heard that most organisations have a mixed computing environment - either through choice of as a result of companies merging.

The court was shown how interoperability can be achieved in different ways. By using a common language or protocol like http; by installing software on one machine so it can talk to another - Novell software which allows a Windows machine to access Novell directory services; by using a translator such as Hummingbird; or by using Samba, which effectively disguises the identity of a non-Windows machine so it appears to be a Windows machine by using middleware.

The court heard that the commission's decision was based on an unduly narrow market definition, and that it failed to take account of its obligations under international law.

The CTO of Sapient told the court that problems relating to file, print, and user directory were so easily solved that it was usually done by an internal IT department rather than a specialist. He said solutions had been available in the past and were still available, and that the three had never influenced a technical decision by a customer in his experience.

The court was also treated to a demonstration of Centrify software that appeared to achieve just what the commission said was impossible. This relates to getting a non-Windows machine recognised by Active Directory.

Paul Moore, CTO at Centrify, demonstrated how to get a Linux machine recognised by the Active Service domain after a quick installation of software.

Centrify CEO Tom Kemp then explained the company had made the product in about a year and employed 35 people. To make it, they used publicly available Microsoft material, observed how a Windows machine behaves, and got some “snippets of code” from Microsoft.

Centrify’s product can put 60 operating systems within the Active Directory domain.

Court president Bo Vesterdorf got a laugh by suggesting it was shame Mr Kemp was not there to sell his software to the court. ®

The court reconvenes at 3pm to hear from the commission.

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