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The open source interoperability mirageMatthew Aslett, October 24, 2007 @ 5:08 am ET
Perhaps I was a little quick to congratulate Neelie Kroes on a job well done forcing Microsoft to extend its interoperability protocols to open source software vendors and developers. It now appears that the terms of the agreement mean that it is incompatible with the GPL.
“I told Microsoft that it had to make interoperability information available to open source developers. Microsoft will now do so, with licensing terms that allow every recipient of the resulting software to copy, modify and redistribute it in accordance with the open source business model,” noted Kroes.
“Can open source software developers implement patented interoperability information?
Open source software developers use various “open source” licences to distribute their software. Some of these licences are incompatible with the patent licence offered by Microsoft. It is up to the commercial open source distributors to ensure that their software products do not infringe upon Microsoft’s patents. If they consider that one or more of Microsoft’s patents would apply to their software product, they can either design around these patents, challenge their validity or take a patent licence from Microsoft.”
As Moody notes: the incompatible licenses include “the GNU GPL, as used by Samba, the only program that really cares about Microsoft’s damn protocols? And let’s not forget that this “patented interoperability information” isn’t even valid in Europe, because you can’t patent software or business methods or whatever you want to call this stuff. And yet the EU has just passed a quick benedictus on the whole bloody thing.”
The FFII, meanwhile, maintains that Microsoft has achieved the result it was after: “They have planned for years to control the open source economy through software patents. This scheme now moves ahead, thanks to the Commission’s haste to make a quick deal.”
Whether that is true or not, it is now clear that the agreement was not the victory for open source that Kroes made it out to be.
Mark Webbink puts it best: “I, for one, just wish the Commission had gone a bit easier on the open source rhetoric. It is misleading from the standpoint that the settlement does not resolve all or even the biggest issues that open source will have with implementing these protocols.”
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