Microsoft signs up first European protocol licensee

Microsoft has announced that Quest will be the first company to license server protocols under the terms of the European Commission’ March 2004 antitrust ruling.

Quest, which makes tools for database, applications and Windows management, will have access to the communications protocols that are implemented in Windows Server Operating Systems and used by a Windows Work Group Server to deliver group and user administration services.

The EU ruling required Microsoft license these protocols on ‘reasonable and non-discriminatory terms’. Last week the European Commission said that the licensing prices proposed by Microsoft are ‘unreasonable’.

Microsoft will earn 5.25 per cent in royalties from Quest products that use the protocols, such as software planned to improve integration of Unix, Linux and Java authentication systems with Windows’ Active Directory. Quest clearly thinks that this is a price worth paying for what Microsoft insists are valuable intellectual property, a view that the European Commission does not share.

‘Microsoft has agreed that the main basis for pricing should be whether its protocols are innovative,’ said Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes. ‘The Commission’s current view is that there is no significant innovation in these protocols.’

The Commission accepts that Microsoft can charge market prices for protocol technology that is innovative, but is committed to ensuring that the open source community has access to the non-innovative protocols.

Critics of Microsoft such as Thomas Vinje, spokesman for the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, argue that the company is trying to restrict the protocols it makes available to those that support products that are complementary to its own, rather than those that compete. Vinje said the Quest deal illustrated this.

‘It’s window-dressing arranged by Microsoft to cover up its refusal to comply with the Commission decision,’ he said. ‘Quest is not a competitor of Microsoft. It is a partner of Microsoft’s.

Microsoft insisted that the Quest deal demonstrates its commitment to the EU decision.

‘This agreement with Quest is all about promoting server interoperability,’ said spokesman Tom Brookes. ‘As we understand it, that is the central objective of the commission’s decision.’

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