= FSFE in Samba case: Microsoft’s defiance backfired =
[Read online: http://fsfe.org/news/2011/news-20110525-01.it.html ]
Luxembourg, May 25 – FSFE played a key role at a Microsoft hearing
before the European Union’s General Court on Tuesday, helping explain
the intricacies of Free Software servers.
The hearing was called to consider Microsoft’s challenge to a EUR 899
million fine imposed by the European Commission in 2008. Microsoft had
failed to carry out remedies imposed for its violation of EU antitrust
law. A ruling is expected for later in the year.
Microsoft was required to provide interoperability information that
would enable others to hook up to its products so they could compete
with its workgroup servers. Key among those was the Samba team, which is
the only surviving competitor in the workgroup server market. Only after
a European Union court acted in 2007 to uphold nearly all of the
Commission’s 2004 decision did Microsoft finally meet the Commission’s
requirement to comply.
“In order to compete, the Samba team only needed the mundane information
about how Microsoft computers talk to each other,” said Tridgell. “There
is nothing innovative here. All the innovative bits are either already
published by Microsoft’s own researchers, or are contained in the
Microsoft program source code – and we have no interest in seeing
that. The innovation certainly isn’t in the protocol specifications.”
Tridgell appeared before a panel headed by Chamber President Nicholas
James Forwood of Britain, which also included judges Franklin Dehousse
of Belgium and Juraj Schwarcz of Slovakia. Microsoft, the Commission,
and outside intervenors on both sides were also represented. FSFE and
the Samba team were represented by lawyer Carlo Piana.
The problems date back to the Commission’s 2004 decision that Microsoft
should release interoperability information. After that, the company
played for time and waited three years to comply with the Commission’s
demands. Explaining the significance of Samba for a competitive software
market, Chamber President Forwood said: “Samba is the funnel through
which the effects on the market will be produced.”
Microsoft contended that the information it had to provide was valuable
and innovative, and originally sought to charge high prices for it.
Tridgell demonstrated that the valuable information had already been
revealed by Microsoft in research papers and other public fora. By
contrast, the information that Samba team needed to interoperate with
computers running Microsoft Windows was neither original nor innovative.
“Microsoft didn’t keep this information secret because it was
valuable; the information was only valuable because it was kept
secret,” Piana told the Court on behalf of FSFE. He said it let
Microsoft preserve its dominant position, because no other software was
able to talk to the company’s systems. “The company used these three
years to further entrench its dominant position in the market.”
“Microsoft is acting like a gambler who doubled up on a losing bet,
and now wants his money back,” said Nicholas Kahn, the representative
of the European Commission. By waiting three years before complying with
the Commission’s decision while the clock on the fine was ticking,
Microsoft set the stakes very high – and finally lost.
“In this case, Europe’s competition regulators have shown their bite.
We hope that the court will uphold the fine and make it clear that
companies in Europe have to play by the rules,” said Karsten Gerloff,
President of the Free Software Foundation Europe. “FSFE does many
things to help foster the growth of Free Software. We’re proud to help
make the case for Free Software in a forum such as this, where we
believe we are providing a public service.”
Workgroup servers handle tasks used in small groups – printing,
signing in, and allocating permission to access particular files. The
Samba project not only provides an alternative to Microsoft’s workgroup
server. It has come up with an alternative that is better in many
respects. For example, the Samba team used the trivial information
provided by Microsoft to build an innovative system that runs on very
small, cheap computers — something that Microsoft’s software cannot do.
“The hearing established that Free Software is central to restoring
competition in the workgroup server market,” says Piana. “Everyone
agreed to this, including the judges. This case matters because it
highlights that interoperability is more important than a company’s
interest in keeping its dominant position.”
== About the Free Software Foundation Europe ==
The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) is a non-profit
non-governmental organisation active in many European countries and
involved in many global activities. Access to software determines
participation in a digital society. To secure equal participation in
the information age, as well as freedom of competition, the Free
Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) pursues and is dedicated to the
furthering of Free Software, defined by the freedoms to use, study,
modify and copy. Founded in 2001, 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.
Contact: Karsten Gerloff, President, +49-176-96904298
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