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21 February 2008, 18:24

Change of strategy as Microsoft opens up

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Microsoft, the world's largest software group, plans to open up to partners and competitors in a comprehensive change of strategy and disclose large amounts of previously confidential information. The announcement was made by Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer at a hastily arranged press conference in Redmond on Thursday.

The initiative encompasses four areas. Microsoft says it will in future ensure open connections, promote data portability, enhance support for industry standards and foster a more open engagement with customers and the industry. This includes the open source community, which Microsoft has previously treated as a competitor.

"These steps represent an important step and significant change in how we share information about our products and technologies," said Ballmer in a pre-published press release. He noted that Microsoft has been exchanging information with customers and partners over the last 33 years, helping to build a whole industry, "Today's announcement represents a significant expansion toward even greater transparency"

"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," added Microsoft's Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie.

The new openness at Redmond applies to a wide range of products – Windows Vista, the .NET Framework, Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, Office SharePoint Server 2007 and future versions of these products. Microsoft's words are being followed by actions. The company has published a huge bundle of PDF files on its MSDN developers portal, including documents which were previously only available on signing a contract and often upon payment of a fee – like that recently paid by the Samba team.

Under the umbrella of Open Protocol Specifications come the Windows Communication Protocols (MCPP) and the Windows Server Protocols (WSPP), which Microsoft has had drawn up by over 600 people following various judgements and which add up to around 30,000 pages of material. These include details of the Active Directory schema, a description of the technology behind group policies and the much-discussed extensions to the Kerberos protocol.

The currently published documents relate primarily to Windows clients and servers. Over the coming months, Microsoft plans to add documentation for the protocols in Office, Exchange, SharePoint and SQL Server.

Observers suggest that Microsoft hopes that the change of strategy will help it draw a line under various competition lawsuits. In January, the European Commission threatened Microsoft with heavy fines because the software giant had declined to release interface information to competitors.


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