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Walls, Meet Petard

Hang on, folks, that Windows Server source code could end up being more free than we thought. Nobody (me included) thought that Microsoft's offer to make the source code available for inspection, at a price to be determined, would be the last word in its antitrust dispute with the European Commission; the EC has continued to press Microsoft to do things the EC's way, and it still has plenty of hammer to swing to enforce its wishes. But its newest demand of Microsoft is hilariously ironic: The EC says Microsoft can't charge anyone to see the source unless it can prove enough "innovation."
Innovation! Does that word ring a few bells? Of course it does--it was the very word Microsoft dropped into literally every statement of defense it made against the various antitrust complaints when they began a few years back. "We need to be free to innovate." And said "innovation" would be whatever Microsoft said it was, no matter the frequent and derisive counters that Microsoft has rarely innovated from scratch (buying DOS, adapting Xerox PARC and Apple work for Windows, mimicking VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3 conventions to arrive at Excel, etc.).

Microsoft is now somewhat hoist upon its own petard here, with the EC determining what will constitute "innovation" in Windows Server and giving precious few clues upfront as to what that word means. That will no doubt irk Microsoft, which presumably has to show that the communications protocols in Windows Server function at some level that other software can't match. Since the two bodies are fighting over such matters as the documentation provided to the EC's test analyst, don't assume that meeting that challenge will be simple.

What does this mean for you? If Redmond's engineers can't convince the EC that Windows Server is sufficiently innovative, then maybe you get to see the source for no charge...or, maybe you don't get to see it at all as the two bodies spar over a permanent solution to the EC's requirements. One thing is for sure: Microsoft never goes down without a fight, and there's nothing different about this dispute.

(A petard, by the way, was a small bomb designed to breach fort walls in medieval times; the word came into English around the time that Shakespeare was writing Hamlet, and he inserted it into his play. So ends your vocabulary lesson for the day....)