Expanding Interoperability

Microsoft has announced that it will make its most widely used enterprise business products more open.

What does that mean? In the technology world ‘openness’ is broadly understood to refer to the extent to which one product, application or service allows another product, application or service to connect to it. The more ‘open’ the easier it is for a connection to be effected.

This process of connection is one aspect of a broader concept called interoperability.

Given the market popularity of many Microsoft products it has always been important to developers that they be able to connect their products and services to those Microsoft products. Having developers make products and services that work with its products has also been important to Microsoft – for obvious reasons.

Over the years Microsoft has enabled interoperability with its products in a wide variety of ways – most of which were never seen by end-users. However as the demands on computing environments has increased and consumers have moved from selecting a vertical solution provided by one vendor to integrated systems and processes delivered by multiple vendors, the importance of interoperability has increased.

The demand for greater interoperability has come from the market. Technology consumers – government, private businesses, commercial and not-for-profits – have made it clear that they want, indeed demand, ever greater levels of interoperability in order to make information sharing easier.

Also, the clear message of recent legal decisions has been that all technology companies need to commit to making interoperability not just possible but practical and feasible.

Microsoft has announced that it will share through its public website the application programming interfaces (APIs) and protocols that Microsoft uses to connect its applications to its most widely used enterprise business products. The products include Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007 as well as future versions of these products.

The availability of these APIs and protocols applies to ALL developers including competitors and open source software developers.

Further Microsoft has announced that it will identify and publish which of these protocols is covered by a patent. Microsoft will provide an easy way to take a patent license to the protocols on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms for a low royalty rate. Open source developers will be given royalty free use of these patents for the development and non-commercial distribution of implementations of those protocols.

Microsoft has also committed to giving users who input data into their most widely used enterprise business products the ability to get that data out in a form that will allow the data to be moved to other applications or uses.

Microsoft is creating a set of interfaces or connections in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel in Office 2007 that allow developers to plug other formats (such as UOF, Daisy and ODF) into Office so that they are part of the main drop down menu and can be selected by users as their default format for saving documents.

Similarly, if a customer stores data in Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft will enable the customer data to be extracted for use in other third-party applications. This will be done in one of a number of ways, such as through an export function that makes the data available in a documented format that can be used elsewhere.

Microsoft has also made commitments in respect of transparency and support for standards and announced initiatives for greater dialogue with customers, partners and the open source communities. To see the full announcement Click here...

I doubt pathological critics will give Microsoft much credit for these announcements. Cynics will not believe until the proof is put before them. Fair enough – these are big changes. These fundamental amendments to Microsoft’s business practices will give consumers a greater voice, more choice, extended flexibility and control over their technology choices – all outcomes that vocal critics have called for and quiet consumers have wanted.

These announcements should drive greater interoperability, opportunity and choice across the IT community of developers, partners, customers, and competitors. Good public policy should not seek to directly or indirectly restrict or limit choice and competition. Well regulated and open markets do work for consumers of IT.

Simon Edwards, Manager, Government and Industry Affairs

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