Microsoft pledge excluding primary competitors

Yesterday's media briefing by Microsoft on its pledge to release interoperability information for flagship products contained little actual news. Over the years Microsoft has made multiple similar pledges and they at times proved to be detrimental rather than beneficial for interoperability. Examining the terms of the Microsoft's latest action shows no major change of policy.

The announcement confirmed that Microsoft was planning to use its software patent portfolio against interoperating products by requiring a patent license for all commercial activity. This is consistent with its previous attempts at allowing competition only where it provides no actual challenge to its monopolies.

Microsoft's patent licences are incompatible with Free Software, the primary competitor to Microsoft in many markets. Almost all major competitors have made significant investments in Free Software and built substantial parts of their business on the principles of freedom of competition and innovation.

Free Software's freedoms to use, study, share and improve software without additional restrictions are key to the success and utility of Free Software in both commercial and non-commercial ICT infrastructure. They are also the basis for many of today's working examples of interoperability and competition.

Microsoft's announcement contains little more than a statement that they will support interoperability only under terms that disallow fair competition. Their press statements may indicate otherwise, but terms of release highlight this explicitly. There has never been a shortage of promises by Microsoft, but results are what must be considered rather than words.

Regrettably, the lack of substance in the pledge and the timing suggest that Microsoft is primarily hoping for positive media coverage and not an examination of the substance of their limited interoperability release.

It can be no coincidence that delegates are meeting in Geneva for the Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) during this period to discuss serious issues in the proposed MS-OOXML format, through which Microsoft aims to reaffirm their control over standards in the global marketplace.

If Microsoft truly means to facilitate interoperability and fair access they should spare delegates the BRM, retract MS-OOXML from ISO and converge this work into the global effort for the Open Document Format, the existing Open Standard at ISO for office documents.

They should also release full interoperability information for all their products without restrictions of any kind.

About the Free Software Foundation Europe:

The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) is a non-profit non-governmental organisation active in many European countries and involved in many global activities. Access to software determines participation in a digital society. To secure equal participation in the information age, as well as freedom of competition, the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) pursues and is dedicated to the furthering of Free Software, defined by the freedoms to use, study, modify and copy. Founded in 2001, creating awareness for these issues, securing Free Software politically and legally, and giving people Freedom by supporting development of Free Software are central issues of the FSFE.

Further information: http://fsfeurope.org