Microsoft on Thursday said it will give developers and customers free access to key application programming interfaces and documentation related to Windows software in a bid to increase interoperability, appease the open source community and European antitrust authorities.
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The company said ensuring open connections, promoting data portability, supporting industry standards and reaching out to open source developers
would be the pillars of its interoperability strategy, which will also include for the formation of a customer council. Microsoft will be publishing new APIs for Word, Excel and PowerPoint to make it easier to support other document formats. It will also hold labs, “plug-fests” and other events to help open source developers work with its platform. The decisions apply to many of Microsoft's most popular products, including Windows Vista
and Windows Server 2008, which will be launched in Canada next Wednesday.
Normally developers have to pay a trade secret licence to access information on Windows client or server protocols, but the decision by Microsoft will allow ISVs to get 30,000 pages of Windows information on MSDN. Microsoft promised it would not sue open source developers for using the documentation, APIs and protocols and would provide licences if needed at low royalty rates.
“We will continue to view (those APIs and protocols) as valuable and continue to monetize all users – not all developers – but all users of that technology,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told a teleconference. “From an economic perspective you could say we’re opening up, but at the same time we retain valuable intellectual property assets.”
Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect, said the company’s moves would make it easier to create complex systems that demand better exchange of information, such as electronic health records and customer databases.
“Innovation tends to trump interoperability, data portability or any such concern,” he said. “We’ve progressively learned that documents and data have a lifetime that goes beyond any lifespan of the software used to create it.”
George Goodall, an analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, noted that most Microsoft shops or channel partners already have access to the APIs and protocols it is publishing. Instead, the move is geared towards attracting a more broad base of developers at a more grassroots level, similar to the developer network which has sprung up around Facebook.