Microsoft makes boldest move yet embracing open source

In a major turnaround for Microsoft, the company Thursday promised "greater transparency" in its development and business practices.

To get this ball rolling, Microsoft Thursday will publish on its Microsoft Developer Network Web site more than 30,000 pages of documentation for Windows client and server protocols that were previously available only under a trade-secret license through the Microsoft Work Group Server Protocol Program and the Microsoft Communication Protocol Program. Microsoft will publish protocol documentation for the other high-volume products in upcoming months, the company said.

Microsoft also is providing a covenant not to sue open-source developers for development or non-commercial distribution of implementations of these protocols -- a huge move for any Linux or open-source developers that may have feared litigation from Microsoft. The company said Thursday that developers will be able to use the documentation for free to develop products. However, companies that want to commercially distribute implementations of the protocols still must obtain a patent license from Microsoft, it said.

On the OOXML front, Microsoft promised Thursday to design new APIs for its Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications so developers can plug in additional document formats and enable users to set these formats as their default for saving documents. While there are add-on technologies that can translate between OOXML -- the default file format in Office 2007 -- and other file formats, Microsoft has not included the ability to set other file formats as default in the product suite.

Microsoft said Thursday it will use a new Open Source Interoperability Initiative to provide resources, facilities and events to the community, including labs, technical content and opportunities for ongoing cooperative development. Microsoft also is seeking an ongoing dialogue with customers, developers and open-source communities through an online Interoperability Forum. And Microsoft will launch a Document Interoperability Initiative to address the issue of data exchange between widely deployed formats, the company said.

The announcement reflects a change in the market in the past couple of decades, said Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, during a question and answer session at the press conference. "When Microsoft entered the game in the mid-80s, people focused on using the PC. They tended to use a small number of programs," he said. Today, people use many more applications and they expect data from one program to be available in other products, he said. The changes Microsoft is making adapt to that change in the market, he said.

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