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FSFE and the antitrust case against Microsoft
Europe's most important antitrust action in the software field was the European Commission's case against Microsoft. The Commission launched the case in 2004. FSFE participated as a "third party", providing expert input on Free Software, interoperability and competition. We worked closely with the Samba team, which develops a Free Software alternative to Microsoft's proprietary workgroup server. Our most important achievement was to make sure that Free Software developers could actually use the interoperability information, which Microsoft was forced to release, to build competing products.
Representation of developer's interest
FSFE played two key roles in this case. We represented the interests of Free Software developers. In our official role as Intervener, we pushed the European Commission to reject any royalty requirements that would be incompatible with Free Software. We also argued constantly for the publication of useful technical documentation and against lock-out of Free Software based on arbitrary manipulations of formats and standards.
Second, FSFE was a public interest organisation which could not be bought off. The case began with many companies giving testimony of Microsoft's breaches of antitrust regulation, but one by one these companies made deals with Microsoft and withdrew from the case. FSFE and SIIA were the only two organisations that pursued this case from start to finish. We were later joined by ECIS, who did extraordinary work. Without this sustained support, the Commission would probably not pursued the case as decisively as it did.
Getting interoperability information
At the heart of this case was that the European Commission would require Microsoft to publish interoperability information. Comparable to dictionaries and grammar books for human languages, this type of information is necessary for non-Microsoft software, such as Samba running on GNU/Linux, to communicate and function fully within existing client-server Microsoft networks.
Previously, the Samba developers were forced to painstakingly gather this information by protocol analysis alone. The interoperability information was not secret because it was valuable. It was valuable only because it was secret.
Ruling confirmed at all levels
Supported by the persistent work by Carlo Piana, Andrew Tridgell, Jeremy Allison, Volker Lendecke, Georg Greve and other people acting on FSFE and Samba's behalf, the Commission's decision that Microsoft had breached competition rules was upheld at the highest level. In June 2012, the European Court of Justice confirmed the record EUR 860 million fine imposed on Microsoft by the Commission for the company's anticompetitive behaviour.
Interoperable applications now possible
Information has now been published and is being used by the developers of Samba and many other projects to improve network interoperability for Free Software applications. This facilitates migration to Free Software. The court rulings have also set important precedents regarding unacceptable business practices.Free Software Foundation Europe
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