Microsoft's EU Proposal a Blow to Open Source

Posted by garyedwards on Jun 7, 2005 3:35 PM EDT
eWeek; By Matthew Broersma
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MS' proposal for resolving antitrust issues leaves open source out of the equation, which could knock Samba out of the game.

eWeek has published a series of articles covering the recent anti trust settlement between Microsoft and the European Union. To me the most interesting piece is an article titled, "Microsoft's EU Proposal a Blow to Open Source". The article can be found at:,1759,1824675,00.asp

Under the current terms of the Microsoft proposal, the author of the article, Matthew Broersma has got it right. It's an enormous blow to Open Source.

Measures imposed on Microsoft by the European Commission last year were meant to restore competition in the workgroup server market. Microsoft was forced to come up with a means of disclosing important protocols and interfaces that connect the MS desktop productivity environment to MS servers and MS devices. The plan Microsoft came up with is a RAND (Reasonable and Non Discriminatory) license for access to these communications and connectivity protocols and interfaces. Price and licensing restrictions effectively excludes Open Source access.

Even though Open Source alternatives are the only meaningful competition left, the Microsoft juggernaut having crushed any and all profit oriented corporate efforts, the European Commission is nevertheless at a loss to do anything other than accept this measure of Redmond magnanimity.

But fear not. There is a solution, which, as measure of our own magnanimity, i'll call the "Spyglass Model of Fair Access and Licensing". The model attempts to provide some structure and meaning to the meaningless RAND. What's "reasonable and non discriminatory" to Microsoft turns out to be a catch-22 highway to oblivion for everyone else. To be "reasonable" we need to have a solid marker, reflecting the marketplace, against which access rights to communications essentials can be "reasonably" distributed. Let me try to explain.

Clearly we need a solution to the problem of providing fair and equitable access to these critically important interfaces and protocols. Without access there can be no open market interoperability worth a competitive damn.

Lucky for us that Microsoft has already come up with a solution that has worked very well for them in the past, and if applied to the current situation would preserve the competitiveness of open source alternatives. Let's call it the "Spyglass Model".

Remember Spyglass? Faced with the prospect of the Netscape Browser totally taking over the Internet, and having no expertise to write their own response, Microsoft turned to Mosaic Browser expert Spyglass. The deal was simple. Spyglass writes a competitive browser for Microsoft, and Microsoft pays them a percentage of every browser sold. A win win for everyone.

Microsoft then proceeded to bolt the Spyglass browser into every Windows distro. Since there was no break down of the Windows bundle into specific charges for specific components like the browser, there was no requirement to reimburse Spyglass for Herculean effort in providing Microsoft with a competitive browser. Funny how MS Office was handled differently, but nevertheless managed to ship bundled with most distributions.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. I think the EU can solve the interoperability problems between MS desktops and competitive servers and services by following the Spyglass model and putting some structure to the RAND licensing model Microsoft has proposed. Let competitors needing totally open, clear and transparent access to these critically important protocols and interfaces pay Microsoft according to what they charge for components utilizing these interfaces in their distributions. Let the regulators audit Microsoft to make certain they provide "all" interfaces and protocols.

It's been more than a year since Microsoft came to similar terms with the USA Courts regarding competitive access rights to the same interfaces and protocols. Since then only seven companies have come up with the booty to purchase MS RAND access rights. And they did so with no guarantee that the interfaces and protocols they were provided with represented the whole enchilada. For all these seven know, they could have purchased themselves into second class competitiveship for aeon's to come. The Microsoft way has long been to provide one set of protocols and interfaces to third parties, and reserve another, secret and enhanced set for themselves. Why should they give up a proven, battle tested business practice guaranteed to fill the coffers?

The MS desktop productivity environment has a 93% plus market dominance. What server, device or Internet service doesn't need access to this, the most dominant computational interface the digital world knows? The desktop interface is how most information workers access information systems. And even as devices continue to rise in their computational and information access capabilities, interoperability with MS desktops remains critically important.

The Spyglass access and pricing model would allow everyone to participate in a competitive marketplace based entirely on the monetary return they get for building upon and implementing Microsoft interfaces and protocols. In fact, to help spur the growth of a truly competitive marketplace, the EU might consider charging the Microsoft Interface and Protocol tax at the time of purchase, instead of the pre build license arrangement now proposed. The current MS proposal demands that competitors finance their purchase of a RAND access license. The financial risk involved is enormous in that the purchasers has to front the booty, produce a marketable product, and directly compete against the provider of those protocols, Microsoft.

Some of this risk could be alleviated by reimbursing Microsoft for RAND rights through a Microsoft tax collected at the point of sale. In fact, why not have Microsoft products also collect the same Microsoft RAND tax, calculated the same way - under the Spyglass model.

Since Open Source solutions can be distributed without cost, there would be no Microsoft tax collected at the point of sale. The Spyglass model provides a means for Open Source Communities to participate in the computational marketplace, even though they lack the profit oriented purpose for organizing that animates Microsoft and other corporate competitors.

For corporations like IBM, Novell, and RedHat, if they can choose to embed the interfaces and protocols in their services and solutions, their products would be taxed at the point of sale based on a percentage the sales price. If however they packaged Open Source solutions like SAMBA, and didn't levy a charge for the SAMBA component, the Microsoft tax wouldn't apply to their sale.

The Spyglass model works for everyone. A fair, pay as you go system that will encourage innovation and make possible the transition to a competitive marketplace. And since the model was devised and perfected by Microsoft, how could they complain or criticize their own genius?

The Spyglass Model - it's a good thing, ~ge~

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