The Open Solutions Alliance and its members can only welcome any initiative by Microsoft in favour of interoperability and would encourage Microsoft to continue down this path with as much transparency as possible.
An announcement at an opportune moment?
While we greet this announcement favourably, we sincerely hope that it is not simply a marketing ploy timed to coincide with some key events. This announcement comes just one week before the vote on the OOXML standard at the ISO, after a year marked by the failure of the OpenXML standard essentially due to lack of interoperability.
Also, the European Union recently sanctioned Microsoft for anti-competitive practices and abuse of its dominant position in the market, and obliged the company to provide documentation through an independent organisation regarding Active Directory and SMB2, the new version of the SMB protocol from Microsoft.
It would have been preferable that Microsoft make this announcement earlier, thereby avoiding several years of court cases and challenges faced by open source developers trying to meet customers’ interoperability requirements.
An opportunity for free software publishers?
For more than 10 years, the community has devoted resources, through many different software projects, to creating APIs, emulators, or adapters to Windows and other Microsoft products. Obviously the availability of APIs and Microsoft documentation will allow better integration between the two worlds.
Open source developers will be able to work on value-added features rather than reinventing layers to enable integrating with Microsoft products, and this can only be beneficial to the software industry and more importantly the customer.
However, we read that any commercial use of a system which would implement Microsoft licensed protocols or would wish to make use of them, starting with the available documentation, would be subject to Microsoft patent protection and the payment of license fees.
We would prefer this condition did not exist so as to be compatible with open source software licensing, allowing open source software vendors to be unencumbered by these pricing policies and to work with Microsoft in the same way that they work with each other.
This way we would let customers choose between a full open source solution or a hybrid solution based completely on its merits.
More transparency for customers?
What enterprise customers are looking for today is the choice to use a combination of Microsoft software and open source software. Interoperability is central to the OSA’s existence.
As free software publishers, we freely publish documentation and source code right from the beginning of a project. We are therefore very attentive to Microsoft’s efforts in this domain.
We would invite Microsoft to adapt its strategy to the open source community’s best practices and codes of conduct by publishing its documentation and APIs under GFDL or GPL, including previous versions of Windows.
This would leave the choice to each IT vendor regarding how to offer new solutions to customers, including whether or not to contract with the proprietary vendor and to develop combined or hybrid offerings. These measures would give greater credibility to this initiative in favour of interoperability and transparency.
Within our interoperability working group at the OSA, we could help Microsoft to examine such an adapted framework, with the transparency and participation of our community.