Microsoft opens Windows

Software giant announces sweeping changes to improve interoperability position.

Microsoft is making more than 30,000 pages of proprietary technical documents on Windows client and server protocols available online as part of a sweeping new set of business principles it announced today in a move to make its products more open and interoperable for customers, partners, developers and competitors.

While Microsoft has taken a number of steps over the past two years to make its software products more interoperable, and the data embedded in those products more portable, Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer said today's announcement represented an "important step and significant change in how we share information about our products and technologies."

Ballmer outlined four new principles that would drive Microsoft's approach to making its high-volume business products interoperable. The company, he said, had taken a number of steps ' and would continue doing so ' to (1) ensure open connections; (2) promote data portability; (3) enhance support for industry standards; and (4) foster more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open-source communities.

The interoperability principles and actions will apply to virtually all of Microsoft's high-volume products including Windows Vista (and the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, Office SharePoint Server 2007 and future versions of all these products.

'For the past 33 years, we have shared a lot of information with hundreds of thousands of partners around the world and helped build the industry, but today's announcement represents a significant expansion toward even greater transparency,' Ballmer said. 'Our goal is to promote greater interoperability, opportunity and choice for customers and developers throughout the industry by making our products more open and by sharing even more information about our technologies.'

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft chief software architect, noted that the interconnected way people now access, use and add value to information has fundamentally altered how software is used and developed.

'Customers need all their vendors, including and especially Microsoft, to deliver software and services that are flexible enough such that any developer can use their open interfaces and data to effectively integrate applications or to compose entirely new solutions,' Ozzie said. 'By increasing the openness of our products, we will provide developers additional opportunity to innovate and deliver value for customers.'

The interoperability principles and actions also reflect the changed legal landscape for Microsoft and the information technology industry, company officials said, pointing in particular to the company's ongoing efforts to fulfill the responsibilities and obligations outlined in the September judgment of the European Court of First Instance (CFI).

Microsoft said it is taking these actions:
  • Ensuring open connections to Microsoft's high-volume products. To enhance connections with third-party products, Microsoft will publish on its Web site documentation for all application programming interfaces (APIs) and communications protocols in its high-volume products that are used by other Microsoft products. Developers do not need to get a license or pay a royalty or other fee to access this information. It would also license certain protocols, covered by Microsoft patents, at reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms and at low royalty rates. And it had already posted on MSDN more than 30,000 pages of documentation for Windows client and server protocols that were previously available only under a trade secret license through the Microsoft Work Group Server Protocol Program (WSPP) and the Microsoft Communication Protocol Program (MCPP). Protocol documentation for additional products, such as Office 2007 and all of the other high-volume products covered by these principles, will be published in the upcoming months.
  • Documenting how Microsoft supports industry standards and extensions. To increase transparency and promote interoperability, Microsoft said it will document for the development community how it supports such standards, including those Microsoft extensions that affect interoperability with other implementations of these standards. This documentation will be published on Microsoft's Web site and it will be accessible without a license, royalty or other fee.
  • Enhancing Office 2007 to provide greater flexibility of document formats. To promote user choice among document formats, Microsoft said it will design new APIs for the Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications in Office 2007 to enable developers to plug in additional document formats and to enable users to set these formats as their default for saving documents.

In a press release, Microsoft said the Interoperability Executive Customer (IEC) Council, an advisory organization established in 2006 and consisting mainly of chief information and technology officers from more than 40 companies and government bodies worldwide, would help guide Microsoft in its work under these principles and actions.

The full text of Microsoft's new Interoperability Principles, and a full list of the actions Microsoft is taking, can be found on Microsoft's Interoperability site, including a company-provided interview with Bob Muglia, senior vice president, Server and Tools Business.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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