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FSF Europe's Statement on the EU Commission Fine on Microsoft
Thursday, July 13 2006 @ 04:20 AM EDT

The Free Software Foundation Europe has issued a statement welcoming the decision of the European Commission to fine Microsoft as a penalty for noncompliance. As you know, the Free Software Foundation Europe was invited by the European Commission to represent the interests of the Free Software movement in the case.

FSFE raises some arguments in its statement that I hadn't heard before, so I thought I should present them here to complete the picture. This is, after all, history we are living, and the explanation for Microsoft's alleged inability to comply earlier is intriguing. Also, it's important to remember who it was that did not quit and leave the field.

According to the statement, every proposal Microsoft suggested was "deliberately exclusive of Samba." As for Microsoft's comment that it has 300 engineers working night and day trying to prepare the documentation, FSFE's president Georg Greve comments, "If we are to believe Microsoft's numbers, it appears that 120,000 person days are not enough to document its own software. ...For users, this should be a shock: Microsoft apparently does not know the software that controls 95% of all desktop computers on this planet. Imagine General Motors releasing a press statement to the extent that even though they had 300 of their best engineers work on this for two years, they cannot provide specifications for the cars they built."

The statement also gives a specific example of the kind of damage to the market that results from the inability to interoperate, one that was presented to the court by Samba president and founder Dr. Andrew Tridgell. I know you'll find it interesting. You might recall that back in April, when Dr. Tridgell demonstrated in court the router device that could be developed if interoperability were possible, Sean Daly interviewed Greve for Groklaw and he described the device:

I believe Andrew Tridgell was very good at ... explaining to the Court in particular that this is not about "free riding" as Microsoft has alleged among other things, but rather about allowing competition and innovation.

He showed a very small palm-sized box which is a router or actually not a router but a router-sized device that is a -- well, you can think of it as a smart disk and the "smart" in it is Samba. You can plug USB hard disks into this device and put it in your network and embedded on that device runs Samba and serves the disks on the network. And that small box could possibly become an Active Directory server for several hundred people and could do all that work in this palm-sized box for which Microsoft right now requires a full PC. I mean, Samba has hardware requirements that are more than ten times lower than those of the Microsoft implementation. ...I think that made a huge impression on the Court because it showed that this is not about "free riding." This is about coming back to the industry standard of cooperation and interoperation. This is coming back to allowing competitors to actually compete with you. This is coming back to allowing innovation. That is what this case is ultimately about.

In today's statement, FSFE puts numbers on that router. It says that it could be made for 100 EUR, if Microsoft didn't hide its interoperability information. Currently, to do the same task requires an entire PC for ten times that amount.

Others are pointing out the same thing, as you can see in this article:

Specifically, they say, Microsoft hasn't disclosed enough about the technical languages, known as protocols in engineering parlance, that one machine uses to ask another device to carry out tasks, such as sharing an office printer or dishing out word-processing files stored on a hard drive.

"It's a very fundamental how-do-we-work-together type of definition, and Microsoft, by keeping secret the protocols it uses, makes sure that other companies can't write equivalent software," said Jonathan Eunice, a software analyst at research firm Illuminata....

"It seems very implausible to me that Microsoft can't come up with this stuff given the amount of time and resources they have," said Andy Gavil, a Howard University law professor who follows the company's antitrust cases in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. "They're basically trying to forestall the competition that the remedy is supposed to facilitate."

Naturally and predictably, "true believers" beg to differ, as you will see at the end of the article.

: )

Here's the FSFE's statement:


Wed Jul 12 13:07:06 CEST 2006

Commission to Microsoft: Preventing interoperability has a price
FSFE welcomes the decision by the European Commission.

"Microsoft is still as far from allowing competition as it was on the day of the original Commission ruling in 2004. All proposals made by Microsoft were deliberately exclusive of Samba, the major remaining competitor. In that light, the fines do not seem to come early, and they do not seem high," comments Carlo Piana, Milano based lawyer of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) regarding the decision of the European Commission to fine Microsoft 1.5 million Euro per day retroactively from 16. December 2005, totalling 280.5 million Euro. Should Microsoft not come into compliance until the end of July 2006, the daily fines could be doubled.

These fines are a reaction to Microsoft's continued lack of compliance with the European Commission decision to make interoperability information available to competitors as a necessary precondition to allow fair competition. FSFE has supported the European Commission from the start of the suit in 2001.

Having made similar statements during the hearing, Microsoft commented to the press last week that 300 engineers are currently working "day and night" to fulfill the request of the public authorities.

"If we are to believe Microsoft's numbers, it appears that 120.000 person days are not enough to document its own software. This is a task that good software developers do during the development of software, and a hallmark of bad engineering," comments Georg Greve, president of the FSFE. "For users, this should be a shock: Microsoft apparently does not know the software that controls 95% of all desktop computers on this planet. Imagine General Motors releasing a press statement to the extent that even though they had 300 of their best engineers work on this for two years, they cannot provide specifications for the cars they built."

Many companies run a mixed network of Windows, GNU/Linux, Unix and other operating systems (OS). The Windows products understand each other, and all the other operating systems can talk to each other. It is the connection between the two worlds that was deliberatly obfuscated a few years ago by Microsoft, and that the Samba project is working on.

During the main hearing at the European Court of Justice toward the end of April, the president and founder of Samba Dr. Andrew Tridgell presented the work of the Samba Team work. Among other things, he demonstrated a box for roughly 100 EUR. If Microsoft did not hide its interoperability information, that box would already be capable of administrating hundreds of users. A small 100 EUR box could do the same task that is currently done by an entire PC for 1.000,- EUR.

"Dr. Tridgell demonstrated easily what kind of innovation is locked out of the market by Microsoft's refusal to interoperate with other vendors. In this case, the price of that refusal are domain controllers that are ten times more expensive than necessary, and the price is paid by everyone: private businesses, public authorities and society as a whole," Georg Greve summarises.

He concludes: "When will society refuse to legitimise such business practices by buying from companies that exhibit such behaviour?"

About the Free Software Foundation Europe:

The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) is a charitable non-governmental organisation dedicated to all aspects of Free Software in Europe. Access to software determines who may participate in a digital society. Therefore the Freedoms to use, copy, modify and redistribute software - as described in the Free Software definition- allow equal participation in the information age. Creating awareness for these issues, securing Free Software politically and legally, and giving people Freedom by supporting development of Free Software are central issues of the FSFE. The FSFE was founded in 2001 as the European sister organisation of the Free Software Foundation in the United States.

Further information:

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