Microsoft has said that its historic decision to open its APIs was largely driven by the European Union’s Court of First Instance, although the announcements are clearly a big win for the open standards/open source movement.

The move is an acknowledgment of changing market dynamics and emerging trends such as web services and software-as-a-service, and a recognition from Microsoft that an open approach will be more fruitful in developing momentum, partnerships and business opportunities than competition and litigation.

From one point of view Microsoft might be attempting to put a stake through the heart of open protocols and possibly open software. By making its APIs and protocols open it makes them closer to de facto standards so it will try kill off projects attempting to produce alternatives.

The approval of OOXML, for instance, is seen as crucial by Microsoft as a means of maintaining its Office market share.

Microsoft seems to be trying to separate Linux and open source. It is looking to compete with Linux while at the same time accepting and working to support open source projects. While Windows-Linux interoperability comes into play here, the real objective is to make open source applications run as well on Windows as they do on Linux.

Microsoft would be happy to limit its competition with open source to Linux, where Windows is currently enjoying bigger growth on servers. Conversely, if users are adopting open source for CRM, CMS, BI or other applications, Microsoft would rather support them with Windows rather than see them move to Linux.

Microsoft is providing a list of patents that should finally enable open source developers to respond to its May 2007 assertion that various open source programmes infringed on 235 of its patents.

Insofar as those patents relate to its high volume products, open source vendors will be now be able to license the patents, attempt to develop around them, or even challenge their legitimacy.

Of course Microsoft can and will still enter into exclusive patent and source code agreements with selected partners on RAND terms – in other words going beyond the API/protocol layer. However, there is an element of undermining its partnerships with Novell and Citrix concerning virtualization.

Matt Aslett is open source analyst at the 451 Group

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