BRUSSELS 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 the EU's 2004 antitrust
In a major change of direction, Microsoft agreed to provide
rivals with vital interconnection information, one month after
the EU's second-highest court backed the Commission's decision.
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 in
computers called servers which run printers, allow desktop PCs
to access shared files and act as the cockpit of the entire
network, coordinating resources and providing personalized
access, user by user.
Samba servers can handle printing and files access but they
lack the ability to work as a cockpit, something that can be
done today only by Microsoft's software called Active
Samba says its own approach is a decade old, which means
ancient history in the world of software. Its aim is to provide
a free, full-service server software to go head-to-head with
Microsoft in the multi-billion dollar market.
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
Microsoft captured the lion's share of the market, wiping
out profits of commercial rivals, the Commission and then the
EU court found.
Samba is a non-profit organization 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
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 License 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.
A Microsoft spokesman said on Thursday the list would be
posted on the company Website within days. He said 21 of the
106 protocols are covered by patents and other applications are
Even then the path may be uncertain.
"Can we invalidate or render harmless the patents which we
which we cannot license?" Moglen said. "It's an open question."
Piana says getting around the patents is necessary.
"Litigating patents would be troublesome," he said.