Microsoft to licence Windows source code

Thursday, January 26, 2006

European Commission headquarters in Brussels

In a move aimed to prevent fines stemming from its antitrust lawsuit filed by the European Commission (EC), Microsoft announced that it will be releasing portions of the source code to its Windows operating system.

The EC ruled in March 2004 that Microsoft had abused its position in the low-end server and media player market, and required that Microsoft "disclose complete and accurate interface documentation which would allow non-Microsoft work group servers to achieve full interoperability with Windows PCs and servers". Microsoft reacted by making available 12,000 pages of technical documentation and up to 500 hours of technical support, but the EC came to the conclusion that it was not enough.

Announcing that "we are putting our most valuable intellectual property on the table so we can put technical compliance issues to rest", Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith asserted that Microsoft would be superseding the EC's requirements as a sign of good faith. "While we are confident that we are presently in full compliance with the Decision, we wish to dispel any notion that Microsoft’s technical documents are insufficient", said Smith.

A Microsoft office at the Redmond Campus

The EC responded in a memo that it will study Microsoft's reply to the Statement of Objections once it receives the full details. However, EC Competition Commissioner spokesman Jonathan Todd commented that "it would be premature to conclude access to the source code would resolve the problem of the lack of compliance with our decision."

A similar offer was made by Microsoft in August 2002 during its antitrust lawsuit filed by the United States Department of Justice and several states' Attorneys General. The resulting "Microsoft Communications Protocols Program" had suffered continuous criticism regarding excessive cost, paperwork, and non-disclosure agreements. It is unclear at this time if Microsoft's planned "Work Group Server Protocol Program" will suffer from the same issues if accepted by the EC.

Microsoft is expected to return to the EC courts in April.