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Microsoft opens APIs and protocols to all

Bows to regulators with openness festival

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In an apparent bid to calm still feisty regulators, Microsoft has agreed to publish application programming interfaces (APIs) for its major software products and provide free access to those interfaces. In addition, Microsoft will free up protocols around its client and server software and has vowed not to sue open source companies that create non-commercial versions of these protocols.

This shift, first revealed by The Register, represents a major change in Microsoft's conduct. The company's tight control over the key APIs that help others interact with Microsoft's software have been a subject of controversy for both US and European regulators. Now it would seem that Microsoft wants to assuage critics by embracing a more open software development model. (The Commission remains to be convinced - see our story here.)

Specifically, Microsoft revealed that it will publish the APIs for Windows Vista, Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007 and Office SharePoint Server 2007 on its website. "Developers do not need to take a license or pay a royalty or other fee to access this information," the company said. "Open access to this documentation will ensure that third-party developers can connect to Microsoft’s high-volume products just as Microsoft’s other products do."

In addition, Microsoft will release some 30,000 pages of documentation surrounding Windows client and server protocols. In the past, partners and customers needed to acquire a trade secret license to this information through the Microsoft Work Group Server Protocol Program (WSPP) and the Microsoft Communication Protocol Program (MCPP). Similar protocol reveals will occur for Office 2007 and other "high-volume products" in the coming months.

Microsoft also plans to highlight which protocols are covered by its patents and will "license all of these patents on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, at low royalty rates."

Looking longer-term, Microsoft has pledged not to sue developers who craft open source versions of its protocols. This would seem to cover projects such as Samba.

And how does Samba co-lead Jeremy Allison feel about things?

"It's definitely a positive step," he told us via e-mail. "Doesn't mean any change for us (Samba) as we already had all these docs, and the promise not to sue is only for 'non-commercial' open source, which is a bit meaningless. But that's the same thing we had really (they're listing the patents etc.).

"At least everyone now gets access to the same info, which I'm very happy about.

"As for the rest, the devil is in the details. If they can follow through with this, the world will be a better place."

Had enough yet? Well, Microsoft hasn't.

On the we're so open it hurts front, Microsoft now plans to provide detailed documentation on how it supports industry standards and extensions. " To increase transparency and promote interoperability, when Microsoft supports a standard in a high-volume product, it will work with other major implementers of the standard toward achieving robust, consistent and interoperable implementations across a broad range of widely deployed products."

The company has also pledged - wait for it - to support other document formats in Office 2007. It's going to craft fresh APIs for Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications that will let developers plug in their own document formats and even set those formats as the default setting for saving files.

And with Redmond turning into Hippie Town, Microsoft has launched an Open Source Interoperability Initiative. The OSII will work to ensure interoperability between Microsoft and open source code through testing and cooperative development.

Microsoft's top executives will provide more details on these programs during a morning conference call. We'll bring you the hot and heavy action. There's more information on today's moves here

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