Microsoft announces open-source interoperability shakeup

After enacting a long campaign of fear, uncertainty, and doubt over possible lawsuits against open-source software companies, Microsoft has turned around and announced what it calls a “re-affirmation and enhancement” of its open-source strategy—and what members of the press call a pledge to not sue open-source software makers, a truce in the open-source war, and a concession to European Union regulators.

Microsoft’s announcement covers a broad number of changes, including a pledge to open up its high-volume products—namely Windows and Office—to make them interoperable with third-party software. Microsoft also intends to promote data portability, improve its support for industry standards, and foster “more open engagement” with open-source communities over interoperability and standards.

For example, Microsoft says it will make “over 30,000” pages of documentation for Windows client and server protocols available on MSDN today, with documents regarding Office 2007 and other products to follow. The information about Windows was previously only available only as part of trade secret licenses. In addition, Microsoft pledges to license patents covering its protocols “on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, at low royalty rates,” and it promises not to sue open-source developers who write software based on those protocols.

The move presents a pretty radical shift in thinking for Microsoft, as exemplified by Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie’s statement that “customers need all their vendors, including and especially Microsoft, to deliver software and services that are flexible enough such that any developer can use their open interfaces and data to effectively integrate applications or to compose entirely new solutions.” Ozzy thinks greater openness will deliver better value to Microsoft’s customers. Those still scratching their heads over the announcement can view a frequently asked questions page about it here.

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