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Bloggy Thing 8:32 - So, here we are early in the morning in California, waiting for Microsoft's top brass to divulge all the meat on their Openness Festival. The Great Beast of the Pacific Northwest has finally capitulated and agreed to free its APIs for developers. In addition, Microsoft will publish most of its major protocol data and license the protocols at a reasonable fee.

It's also going to support rival document formats in Office and even set up an organization dedicated to working with open source software developers. Oh yeah, Microsoft won't sue people crafting non-commercial, open source versions of its protocols either.

Pigs flying? Hell freezing? Yessir. But that's what happens when US and especially European bureaucrats keep breathing down you neck for years.

Anyway, we'll have live bloggy style coverage of an upcoming conference call with Chief Ballmer, top lawyer Brad Smith, Server chief Craig Mundie and memo man Ray Ozzie right here.

8:45 - This is not about Yahoo!!!!!! Microsoft wants you to know that.

8:46 - The call finally starts. Microsoft blamed a 15-minute delay on its importance. "The interest was so large that it overwhelmed the ability of the operators to clear the queue," we were told. Oh yeah, "We also had a technical problem that we had to solve." You decide.

8:50 - Biggy Ballmer has been droning on for a bit. Microsoft has been pretty open for years, but now it's super, super open, he tells us.

"We are committed to living up to our legal responsibilities around the world," he adds.

That's nice, Steve.

Overall, Ballmer sounds pretty sedated. We doubt he's frothing at the mouth or even sweating. He reads a mean PowerPoint though.

8:55 - Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie has stepped in. He's all about support for the more open document formats and about Microsoft agreeing to let go of customer data as needed. Talking about things like healthcare records, Ozzie said, "We have learned that documents and data have lifetimes that span well beyond the lifetimes of any applications used to produce them."

So, Microsoft seems set to let people shift their information to rival platforms.

Man, this guy sounds kind of like Larry Lessig. It makes you want to cringe or puke in a gibbon.

9:03 - Longtime Microsoft super exec Craig Mundie jumped on the horn to chime in on Microsoft's undying love for open source software. A few years ago open source was a cancer. Now Microsoft wants to fly the hippie flag. Disgusting. No wait. Great.

"It's a great step forward. It's a major step."

Poor Craig. Sure's he's made millions and millions from Microsoft, but he's always been a second fiddle. Still, open source software is nice.

9:06 - Top lawyer Brad Smith charged after the obvious. Microsoft thinks that today's actions should keep the European Commission happy.

"Microsoft is committed to taking all necessary steps to ensure we are in compliance with European Law," he said.

Microsoft will make sure that Europe hears about today's moves and will "take additional steps in the coming weeks" to keep the socialists happy.

Now the Q&A starts. Let's see how gentle the hacks are.

9:09 - Some overpaid analyst asked how today's moves reflect on Microsoft's past positions around intellectual property.

"We are not announcing any change today with regard to our broader perspective on intellectual property rights," Smith said.

Cancer. Not cancer.

What's the difference?

9:15 - Couldn't quite make out who was talking but one fella was prattling about the immensity of Microsoft's documentation. The Beast has chucked some 30,000 pages of protocol information up on the web.

"This documentation took years and millions of dollars of software engineering work to create," the person said.

And there's more pages on the way. Microsoft will oddly "beta" the new bits in April and complete its disgorgement in June.

"It is very forward-looking in terms of addressing the products of interest to others in our industry," the person said.

So, not Microsoft's implementation of COBOL then?

9:20 - Some chowder head reporter has the audacity to tell Ballmer that Microsoft is only doing this to keep European socialists happy.

"These steps are being taken on our own," Ballmer said.

"These principles are being taken on our actions and do reflect the reality of our unique legal situation and our view of what will be required but also what we see as new opportunities and risks in a more connected world.

"The world we grew up in was a world of individual machines."

But now we're in a service oriented architecture paradise, and Ozzie tells Ballmer about it everyday. So, Microsoft needs to be a bit looser with its morals and code.

"We open up new opportunities for partners to take share from us," Ballmer said. "I guess that's right, but at the same time we open up opportunities for partners to add value.

"We think on balance it is consistent with what we will be doing anyway from a legal perspective, and it's pro-customers. . . In the long run, it should be a good thing for our shareholders."

But what about mankind?

Ballmer should have stopped there but went on to say something about Microsoft being "on the receiving end" of some standards work instead of leading it. We just can't quite take the image of Ballmer being on the receiving end of anything.

9:40 - Er, so, Microsoft took all of five questions from reporters and analysts. That's weaker than Ryan Seacrest for a company droning on about much it loves to share information now.

All in all, it's funny to see how slowly a company like Microsoft moves. It was engaging in public debates about the evils of the GPL and funding SCO a few years ago. Now Microsoft has awoken to the notion that it can ride the free publicity happiness train just by seeming less rigid.

Here's to less rigidity. ®

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