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Samba shakes hands with Microsoft

No royalties to pay in interop deal?

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The Samba team has reached an agreement with Microsoft, with the software giant agreeing to disclose technical and legal information to the software libre project. Samba is by far the most widely-used software stack that allows non-Microsoft computer to talk to Windows machines, and use proprietary Microsoft network services.

The deal follows the European Commission's decision to force Microsoft to document its protocols adequately. The Samba Project will pay a one-time fee of €10,000, via a corporation, set up for the purpose, called the Protocol Freedom Information Foundation.

"The agreement is, at its heart, a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)," explains Samba co-lead Andrew Tridgell in his (very full) explanation of the deal.

In return, Samba receives documentation of various workgroup server protocols and a list of patents Microsoft believes apply to its protocols. This was inserted at Samba's request, explains Tridgell, who called it "at least a step in the right direction".

"We now have a bounded set of work to do to ensure we don't infringe any Microsoft patents on these protocols."

In contrast to Microsoft's other IP licensing arrangements, no per-copy royalty is payable. This is no small achievement. As we reported, here, Microsoft last year proposed a royalty schedule of $50,000 upfront, with royalties ranging from $80 to $1,900 per box.

You can read the agreement here [PDF, 740kb], and Tridgell's explanation here. There's also a red-lined version.

How it all began

The EU's litigation against Microsoft began with a complaint from Sun Microsystems in 1998, alleging that Microsoft had refused Sun the information it required to interoperate with Active Directory. The EU case also examined the issue of digital media playback, but its primary focus was on the server, in contrast with the US litigation, which focused on Microsoft's desktop software monopoly.

Sun had licensed a product called Advanced Server for Unix (AS/U) developed by AT&T, which allowed a non-Windows machine to act as a Primary Domain Controller in a Windows network. After a Microsoft executive had suggested a "buy out", Redmond struck a secret deal with AT&T which deprived licensees such as Sun updates to AS/U. Sun then tried to roll its own, and then realized how hard it was without the interoperability information.

As for Samba, it began life in the early 1990s as an attempt to implement Microsoft's CIFS network file system (later SMB, hence the name) on non-Windows machines. Back then, Microsoft was a newcomer to the server market (hanging on the coat-tails of IBM, to market OS/2 LAN Manager), and was much more helpful about disclosing the workings of its crufty and complex network protocols. ®

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