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Microsoft deal gives Samba access to Windows protocol documentation

Open-source proponents, including Samba, strike deal with Microsoft for Windows server code licensing

By , Network World
December 20, 2007 05:54 PM ET

Network World - Open-source proponents say they've reached a legal agreement with Microsoft under which the software giant is making available protocol documentation needed to fully interoperate with the Microsoft Windows workgroup server projects, allowing them to better support projects such as Samba.

"We are getting the full protocol documentation for everything involved with creating a workgroup server," said Jeremy Allison, lead software developer at Samba, in an e-mail describing the legal licensing arrangement with Microsoft. The Samba open-source project provides freely available code used for interoperability between Linux/Unix servers and Windows-based clients.

Allison says that not having access to the full protocol documentation, as has been the case until now, "delays our implementation and makes us less of an effective competitor, as we have to work out everything via network analysis."

The open-source community has been fiercely critical in the past of code-licensing regimens set up by Microsoft to quell the storm of accusations from both U.S. and European regulatory authorities that say the market dominance of its proprietary code stifles software competition.

The deal between Microsoft and the open source community is historic, but Microsoft's year-end largesse arises not so much from the holiday spirit as legal pressure from the European Commission, which brought an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft that began in March of 2004 and hit a milestone this September when Microsoft lost an appeal.

In response to the European Commission regulatory concerns, Microsoft has now taken the step of entering into a complex legal arrangement with the Protocol Freedom Information Foundation (PFIF) under which it will license some of its code for open source purposes.

PFIF is described as a Delaware-based non-profit organization established by the Software Freedom Law Center, which is the legal entity signing the agreement that lets the PFIF and Samba engineers publish the source code of the implementation of these protocols without any further restrictions.

The PFIF will make the documentation needed for implementation of all workgroup server protocols covered by the EU decision, after paying Microsoft a one-time sum of 10,000 Euros. That documentation must be kept "in confidence" and "under non-disclosure" by PFIF and Samba.

Microsoft representative Sam Ramji describes Microsoft's view about the agreement in his blog, Port 25. In it, Ramji describes a complex process of bringing technical and legal participants together to work out an accord.

He writes: "Today the Samba team announced that they're satisfied with the agreement, and are taking a Work Group Server Protocol Program (WSPP) trade secret and copyright license. This will give them access to Microsoft specifications for the protocols in WSPP (such as file, print, and user and group administrative services) and allow the Samba team to create, use and distribute implementations. I expect this will significantly improve the process of Samba development, and produce better quality interoperation between Windows and Linux/Unix environments."

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