Microsoft throws open its APIs

Microsoft is about to transform the IT business by offering free access to all the APIs and protocols implemented in its high-volume business products.

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Microsoft is about to transform the IT business by offering free access to all the APIs and protocols implemented in its high-volume business products.

This includes the .NET Framework, Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, Office SharePoint Server 2007 and future versions.

The announcement was made by CEO Steve Ballmer, flanked by chief software architect Ray Ozzie, head of the Server and Tools division Bob Muglia and Brad Smith, the company’s senior legal officer.

The Server and Tools division oversees some of Microsoft's most significant business products, such as Windows Server, Visual Studio and SQL Server, new versions of which Microsoft plans to launch in Los Angeles at the end of February. Another major enterprise product for Microsoft, Exchange Server, also is a part of this business.

With the announcement Microsoft pledged to work more openly with the rest of the industry, including the open source community, on interoperability and standards issues.

“This will have huge implications for Microsoft’s customers, competitors and partners.

“Microsoft would have it that it intends to live by the merit of its products, rather than rely on lock-in. The reality is its business model is based on dominance. The lock-in mentality and commercial realities haven’t gone away, " said Janice McGinn, The 451 Group's research director, CIO Practice, "but it's a huge, disruptive shift.

Matt Aslett, open source analyst with the 451 Group added: "Developers gain the potential to tie applications more closely into Microsoft’s Windows, SQL Server, Office and Exchange Server products with greater flexibility and innovation, perhaps through self-sustaining developer communities.

“SharePoint could also benefit from a platform approach, becoming a de facto central application for large segments of the market.

“And Microsoft is aiming to make open source applications run as well on Windows as they do on Linux, enabling it to continue competing against Linux while at the same time accepting and working to support open source projects."

The move appears to have been precipitated partly by Microsoft’s ongoing skirmishes with the European Union’s authorities, but is also “the result of a hard look at market dynamics and the competition”, said McGinn.

Mike Gilpin, an analyst with Forrester, suggested that many of Microsoft's recent executive changes also represent a shift in mind-set to a more open policy, and noted the rise of executives such as Bill Hilf, general manager of platform strategy and a former IBM Linux specialist, as part of this attitude adjustment.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a relationship between the two things," he said. "This does come from the top. I think in the way this is being communicated inside of Microsoft, it places a lot of requirements on developers and product managers to behave in a certain way -- and if they don't do that, they'll be in a lot of trouble with [Chairman] Bill [Gates] and [CEO] Steve [Ballmer]."

Gilpin said he has always been skeptical of Microsoft's intentions toward being more open and transparent, but in the past two years, he said the company "has really changed its stripes around interoperability."

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