A More Open Microsoft

By David Strom Print this article Print

Your Linux and Mac clients won't be left out in the cold when Microsoft upgrades its Windows Server 2008 software later this year.

You might have missed the news just before the holidays that Microsoft has become slightly more open with respect to its networking protocols. Late last year, they announced a way for third parties to license their core file sharing protocols through an independent organization called the Protocol Freedom Information Foundation.

This is good news on several fronts.

First, it means that your Linux and Mac clients won't be left out in the cold when Microsoft upgrades its Windows Server 2008 software later this year, and be able to fully continue to participate on Microsoft networks and share files and print servers with Windows users.

Both of these OSs make use of Samba, which will be the first licensee to take advantage of this arrangement. In the past, Samba had to resort to some clever programming tricks to stay on top of changes to these protocols.

Second, the announcement shows that Microsoft is finally serious about becoming a better open systems player. Of course, it helps that the full weight of both the US and European legal systems have been pestering them for the past several years, but it is nice to see some results other than the ability to uninstall IE from Windows and have some minor fines paid (minor in terms of Microsoft's daily cash intake, that is.)

I won't get into the agreement mechanics here, but corporate developers essentially become subcontractors to this new foundation, and sign non-disclosure agreements in return for getting documentation on how the protocols work. A good place to start reading is what my fellow eWeek/Microsoft Watch columnist Joe Wilcox has posted on the subject.

This comes along with another small positive development for more openness that happened earlier last year – the ability to document all the various places inside both Windows XP and Vista that control how an application is installed and accounted for. This was done by the Technical Committee, a group of dedicated engineers whose task is to keep Microsoft on its toes and monitor the company's compliance with the original 2002 Department of Justice ruling.

Last spring, thetc.org released a tool called ISV Settings Manager that "developers have an easier job finding and selecting registry settings for their applications," according to the site explanation. There are several files available for downloading, include the entire source code listing.

Third, the announcement is also good for Microsoft, because they benefit from the interoperability work that Samba and other licensees will now perform.

It isn't just the ability to share files across a heterogeneous network, but the ability of a computer to fully participate in an Active Directory tree and trust network and obtain endpoint health inspection services as well as handle Windows remote procedure calls too. As our corporate networks become more sophisticated than just sharing files and printers, we need to ensure that the applications that we build can work across multiple OSs and clients. Ironically, this agreement is probably the last reason anyone needs to move off Netware and IPX, not that there is much debate on that score anymore.

I like the name of the foundation, too: Protocol Freedom. While there is still a lot of work to be done, at least now we have some legal structures in place that will make it easier for all of us to run interoperable networks in the coming years. And that is a great way to start off the new year!

A bit about me.

This may be my first column for Baseline, but I am no stranger to IT publications, or IT operations, for that matter. Back in the early days of the PC I was an IT worker and then manager in both government and corporate shops – I led the team that installed the first LANs at Transamerica Occidental Insurance in the mid-1980s, and then went on to work at the original PC Week for Ziff Davis, start Network Computing magazine for CMP, and a bunch of Web sites and other publishing efforts too.

Along the way I have written two books and thousands of magazine articles for dozens of publications, appeared on various national radio and TV shows, and still keep up a blog at strominator.com. Lately, I do a regular series of podcasts for eWeek and will be contributing to the print edition of Baseline magazine beginning with their March issue.

You can send me email at david@strom.com. I live and work out of St. Louis.

This article was originally published on 2008-01-02
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