Microsoft Easing Windows Licensing Requirements

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With the high-profile launch of its Windows Server 2003 operating system rapidly approaching, Microsoft moved to lessen restrictions and fees it charges competitors to see the innards of the server operating system.

In a company statement, Microsoft said: "in compliance with the settlement agreement and final judgment of the Court, Microsoft has made available on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms the protocols implemented in certain Windows desktop products that are used to interoperate or communicate natively with Microsoft server operating system products. These protocols are available to be licensed to others in the industry on a royalty basis for the sole purpose of creating server software to interoperate or communicate with Windows 2000 Professional, Windows XP and successor desktop operating systems."

The more open stance is a concession to Department of Justice concerns about its compliance with the terms of its antitrust settlement, which stipulated that the firm must ensure that non-Microsoft server software can interoperate with Windows the same way the Microsoft applications do.

The settlement terms required Microsoft to license its APIs in a reasonable and non-discriminatory manner. The APIs allow Microsoft to smoothly integrate its own applications with its operating system. With the APIs in hand, competitors will find it easier to create interfaces for their applications which are more consistent with the overall Windows environment.

But Microsoft implemented that remedy with a requirement that those who license the APIs agree to a non-disclosure agreement which sharply limited their ability to share the information they garnered. Only three firms signed that agreement, raising red flags at the Justice Department.

To ease DoJ fears, Microsoft said it would "publish virtually all information about the operating system, including sample license documents and brief summaries of each of the protocols, on a publicly accessible website that anyone can view."

The move to allow competitors greater access to aspects of the Windows code comes only after months of negotiations between the company's lawyers and the legal staff of the Justice Department, which has the responsibility of overseeing the terms of its antitrust settlement agreement.

Microsoft and the Justice Department still have to work out some details regarding its Windows licensing concessions, but neither side would disclose those remaining specific issues.

While the non-disclosure requirements have been eased, the company noted, "Companies and individuals will of course continue to be required to protect any intellectual property that they license."

Since August, Microsoft has worked collaboratively with the DoJ, States and existing and prospective licensees to elicit feedback and to fine-tune its approach to making these protocols readily available to companies seeking to implement them in their products. Many of those changes have been implemented already. In the coming weeks, Microsoft will announce and implement an additional set of proposed changes that will further simplify entry to, and participation in, the program, Microsoft said in a press release.

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