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Network World - SANTA CLARA – In a move mostly designed to open up its identity infrastructure, Microsoft said Tuesday that it would drop intellectual-property and patent claims to 35 Web services protocols it has developed making them available license-free for anyone to use.
At IDG’s annual Digital ID World conference, the company quietly issued the Microsoft Open Specification Promise (OPS), which gives developers free access to many of the Web services protocols Microsoft has developed over the years.
The protocols include the current versions of protocols in the WS-* security stack and those that are used as the foundation for the company’s year-old Identity Metasystem infrastructure and its InfoCard and companion CardSpace technology.
The announcement was posted on the blog of Kim Cameron, Microsoft’s identity architect, and included endorsements from third-party rivals, such as Red Hat. Cameron and colleague Mike Jones worked to get OPS approved in the executive and legal ranks at Microsoft. Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft’s server and tools business and Microsoft’s patent lawyers signed off on the OPS document Tuesday.
Cameron wrote on his blog: “The goal was to find the simplest, clearest way of assuring that the broadest possible audience of developers could implement specifications without worrying about intellectual-property issues - in other words a simplified method of sharing ‘technical assets.’ ”
OPS is a legal document that hinges on a “promise not to assert” (i.e., enforce patents). It is “self-executing,” meaning developers don’t have to sign anything to use the protocols. Similar legal documents not to assert rights over patents have been used recently by IBM, Sun and Oracle. OPS is similar to another promise not to assert patents that Microsoft made last year regarding its Office 2003 XML Reference Schema.
But there is no doubt Microsoft’s OPS will be subjected to interpretation and scrutiny over certain provisions, such as the fact that it covers only current versions of the protocols and reserves commitments on future iterations. But Microsoft hopes OPS aligns closely with open source licensing.
“This is a significant step forward,” says Jamie Lewis, Burton Group president and CEO. “Microsoft has been talking consistently about wanting to see not only interoperability but functional equivalency for its identity technology on other platforms.”
While licensing was the major hurdle, lesser details also have to be worked out, including the meta models and schema that Microsoft used to implement its own identity technology, such as InfoCard and CardSpace. Microsoft has not reached decisions about how that will be accomplished.
“The protocols alone do not give you functional equivalency,” Lewis says. “But clearly Microsoft is serious about seeing the functional equivalency of CardSpace moving beyond the Windows platform, and this is a huge step that changes the context of these discussions.”
One of the immediate changes is that any ISV can now freely develop client interfaces and back-end components that are interoperable with Microsoft’s Identity Metasystem, which was introduced last year.