Big news today - Microsoft’s top executives have held a press conference, stating on record that they will be opening up access to APIs and protocols associated with Windows and related technologies to an unprecedented level. That means, among other things:
- It will publish full API documentation for Vista, Windows Server, .Net, SQL Server, Office, Exchange, Sharepoint and such
- It won’t sue open source developers working on non-commercial projects over patents
- It will charge “reasonable and non-discriminatory” royalty levels over patents for writers of commercial software implementing Microsoft APIs and protocols
- They will allow developers to plug-in new document formats to Office
One of the key factors here is what “reasonable and non-discriminatory” royalty levels actually means - after all, non-commercial outfits aren’t a direct competitor for Microsoft’s core business customers, the offices which require that their infrastructure is provided by professional, commercial outfits. If it transpires that a commercial third party can make a fully Windows-compatible OS and sell it (or simply services around it - if for example that OS is Linux) at a competitive price against Microsoft without being crippled by royalties, then we will have finally reached the stage of true competition that has been missing for so long. Will we get there? I’m not sure - obviously Microsoft has a head start in its favour, and will no doubt only have to release APIs when new / revised products are finished; thus they’d be able to keep their edge just by releasing new revisions regularly and getting people to move to them. Previous API releases such as those made available to the EC also haven’t exactly been inspiring in their clarity. But, it’s unfair to pre-judge.
I’ll personally be watching and waiting to see exactly how this new policy pans out, and whether it actually results in genuine competition in the marketplace or not. Really it’s the results that matter, not the rhetoric. Maybe Microsoft really has gone all soft and fluffy on us, or maybe the outcomes will be considerably adrift from the sales pitch and it’s all part of a plan more devious than we could ever possibly imagine. Time will tell.