BRUSSELS Oct 25 Microsoft's (MSFT.O) compliance
with a landmark European Union antitrust decision has opened
competition for servers, where one rival says it now has a
fighting chance to take on the software giant's dominance.
The open-source, non-profit Samba software group says it won
some things but not everything it wanted this week, when
Microsoft said it would stop fighting against the EU's 2004
In a major change of direction, Microsoft agreed to provide
competitors with vital interconection information, one month
after the EU's second-highest court backed the Commission's
But the deal leaves the playing field uneven, Samba says.
"There is still contested ground to win," said Eban Moglen,
a Columbia University law professor who also heads the Software
Freedom Law Center, which backs the free software movement and
That ground is in most offices around the world, where "work
group servers" connect to desktop PCs and run printers, access
files and act as the cockpit of the entire network, coordinating
resources and providing personalised access, user by user.
Samba can print and access files but it lacks the ability to
work as a cockpit, something that can be done today only by
Microsoft's Active Directory. Samba says its own approach is a
decade old, ancient history in the world of software.
Samba's aim is to provide a free, full-service product to
go head-to-head with Microsoft in the multi-billion dollar
To do that, it needs interconnection information.
Then Samba's engineers can develop its products, which
dovetail with the commercial world. Companies like Red Hat
(RHT.N), Canonical and Oracle ORCL.O and others make money by
selling service and installation with Samba's free products.
Severs were originally pioneered for PCs by Novell NOVL.O,
which got its interconnect information from Microsoft. Once
Microsoft entered the server field it stopped giving full
information and rival products stopped working smoothly.
Microsoft captured the lion's share of the market, wiping
out profits of commercial rivals, the Commission and then the EU
Samba is a non-profit organisation so a lack of profits
could not kill it, making it the last real competitor standing.
This week's deal allows everyone to get full interconnection
information from Microsoft for 10,000 euros ($14,220).
Those who resell products making use of the information can
choose to pay a royalty of 0.4 percent of turnover to forestall
lawsuits on patents claimed by Microsoft.
But Samba's General Public Licence and free software
principles require it to be free, without royalty-bearing
patents, said Carlo Piana, a lawyer for Samba in Milan, Italy.
The first step in that direction is to get a definitive list
of Microsoft's patent claims, which has not happened yet.
"Until we have it we cannot say anything because we just
don't know", said Volker Lendecke, a software developer for
Samba in Goettingen, Germany.
Even then the path may be uncertain.
"Can we invalidate or render harmless the patents which we
which we cannot licence?" Moglen said. "It's an open question."
Piana says getting around the patents is necessary.
"Litigating patents would be troublesome," he said.
(Reporting by David Lawsky; editing by David Cowell; Reuters
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