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You Can Look, But You'd Better Not Touch

As Microsoft continues to thrash it out with the European Commission over what it needs to do to get the antitrust monkey off its back, reader Bill Flanagan points out that its offer to open up some of its Windows Server source code isn't as munificent as it may appear at first.
"The offer is far from what most of us think when we hear 'license' (permission to use, often for a fee) or 'release' (under the GNU general license, for no fee)," notes Mr. Flanagan. "It appears that MS is offering, for a price, the opportunity to 'read only' the source code, without any right to use, or even to take away a copy. There is nothing in the offer about the specifications (which is what the EU ordered--the protocol specs to be made available)."

Indeed, the lack of readable protocol specs is mainly why the EC shot down this latest Microsoft offer; EC officials say the instructions provided by Microsoft are frequently incorrect and even unreadable. (Microsoft counters that the instructions should work fine if the users know what they're doing.) But the terms of the offer do give rise to a real question: What use will that source code be to anyone if, after having paid Microsoft a fee to even look at it (another provision to which the EC is saying an emphatic "NO"), you can't even record any of the code to have your applications work with? What are third parties supposed to do, use one of those tiny cameras you see in '60s-era spy thrillers to take surreptitious snapshots? No doubt that'd be violating the agreement Microsoft will impose on them.

In short, Mr. Flanagan's point is a very good one. Until Microsoft does something to make that source code useful to the third parties that the EC is attempting to aid here, the whole gambit looks increasingly like a non-starter, and hardly a good-faith way to solve the problem on Redmond's part.