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Free Software Foundation blasts M$

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Microsoft's proposals to settle its dispute with the EU is a threat to Samba, according to the European arm of the Free Software Foundation. The company has, so far, refused to allow its interoperability information to be used to create Open Source software.

Earlier this week Microsoft revealed that it had written to the European Commission with what Steve Ballmer called 'serious concessions' in order to settle the dispute which arose following the March 2004 antitrust ruling by the European Commission.

As part of the remedy, Microsoft was ordered to reveal some of its interoperability code to allow rival server software to work with desktop Windows. However, since the ruling, Microsoft has tried to limit the extent to which it is forced to reveal what it considers to be its intellectual property.

While now agreeing that most third-party software which derives from the interoperability protocols should be 'fairly licenced' and available world wide, Microsoft has balked at liberalising the licence to the extent it would be compatible with Open Source.

Redmond argues that any Open Source software based on Microsoft protocols would be published and by definition enter the public domain, thus bypassing any other royalty agreement that Microsoft might try to impose on third parties licensing directly.

Georg Greve, president of Free Software Foundation Europe, berates the European Union for agreeing to the argument and says that it is merely a way for Microsoft to drag its feet still further.

'By accepting the notion that some protocols may be considered innovation, the European Commission opened a Pandora's box of legal house-to-house fighting,' according to Greve. 'Microsoft will declare all the protocols as innovative and will defend them for as long as they can. Its would-be competitors and the Commission on the other hand will never be able to compete with Microsoft's army of several hundred lawyers.'

Despite Greve's attacks, the Commissioners have not yet fully accepted Microsoft's offer. Instead, the EU says it wishes to 'market test' the proposals to the industry to measure general acceptance before agreeing to them. Nevertheless, the FSFE feels that the voice of the Open Source community may not be heard.

Greve also suspects that there is another commercial motive behind Microsoft making an exception of Open Source.

'The proposal specifically precludes the information from being used in a Free Software implementation, such as the Samba workgroup server software,' Greve said. 'As Samba is the only remaining major competitor of Microsoft in this market, the Microsoft proposal translates to: Of course we will give you the specifications - unless you happen to be a serious competitor of ours, that is.'

Steve Malone.

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