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<title>The Microsoft Antitrust Trial and Free Software
- GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)</title> Foundation</title>
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<h2>The Microsoft Antitrust Trial and Free Software</h2>

<p>
With the Microsoft antitrust trial moving toward a conclusion, the
question of what to demand of Microsoft if it loses is coming to the
fore.  Ralph Nader is even [when this was written, in March 1999]
organizing a conference about the question (see
<a href="http://www.appraising-microsoft.org/">http://www.appraising-microsoft.org/</a>).</p>
<p>
The obvious answers—to restrict contracts between Microsoft and
computer manufacturers, or to break up the company—will not make
a crucial difference.  The former might encourage the availability of
computers with the GNU/Linux system preinstalled, but that is
happening anyway.  The latter would mainly help other proprietary
application developers compete, which would only offer users
alternative ways to let go of their freedom.</p>
<p>
So I propose three remedies that would help enable
<a href="/philosophy/free-sw.html">free software</a> operating systems
such as GNU/Linux compete technically while respecting users' freedom.
These three remedies directly address the three biggest obstacles to
development of free operating systems, and to giving them the
capability of running programs written for Windows.  They also
directly address the methods Microsoft has said (in the
“Halloween documents”) it will use to obstruct free
software.  It would be most effective to use all three of these
remedies together.</p>

<ol>
  <li>Require Microsoft to publish complete documentation of all
   interfaces between software components, all communications
   protocols, and all file formats.  This would block one of
   Microsoft's favorite tactics: secret and incompatible interfaces.
<p>
   To make this requirement really stick, Microsoft should not be
   allowed to use a nondisclosure agreement with some other
   organization to excuse implementing a secret interface.  The rule
   must be: if they cannot publish the interface, they cannot release
   an implementation of it.</p>
<p>
   It would, however, be acceptable to permit Microsoft to begin
   implementation of an interface before the publication of the
   interface specifications, provided that they release the
   specifications simultaneously with the implementation.</p>
<p>
   Enforcement of this requirement would not be difficult.  If other
   software developers complain that the published documentation fails
   to describe some aspect of the interface, or how to do a certain
   job, the court would direct Microsoft to answer questions about it.
   Any questions about interfaces (as distinguished from
   implementation techniques) would have to be answered.</p>
<p>
   Similar terms were included in an agreement between IBM and the
   European Community in 1984, settling another antitrust dispute.
   See <a href="http://www.cptech.org/at/ibm/ibm1984ec.html">
       http://www.cptech.org/at/ibm/ibm1984ec.html</a>.</p>
</li>
<li>Require Microsoft to use its patents for defense only, in the field
   of software.  (If they happen to own patents that apply to other
   fields, those other fields could be included in this requirement,
   or they could be exempt.)  This would block the other tactic
   Microsoft mentioned in the Halloween documents: using patents to
   block development of free software.
<p>
   We should give Microsoft the option of using either self-defense or
   mutual defense.  Self defense means offering to cross-license all
   patents at no charge with anyone who wishes to do so.  Mutual
   defense means licensing all patents to a pool which anyone can
   join—even people who have no patents of their own.  The pool
   would license all members' patents to all members.</p>
<p>
   It is crucial to address the issue of patents, because it does no
   good to have Microsoft publish an interface, if they have managed
   to work some patented wrinkle into it (or into the functionality it
   gives access to), such that the rest of us are not allowed to
   implement it.</p>
</li>
<li>Require Microsoft not to certify any hardware as working with
   Microsoft software, unless the hardware's complete specifications
   have been published, so that any programmer can implement software
   to support the same hardware.
<p>
   Secret hardware specifications are not in general Microsoft's
   doing, but they are a significant obstacle for the development of
   the free operating systems that can provide competition for
   Windows.  To remove this obstacle would be a great help.  If a
   settlement is negotiated with Microsoft, including this sort of
   provision in it is not impossible—it would be a matter of
   negotiation.</p>
</li>
</ol>
<p>
This April, Microsoft's Ballmer announced a possible plan to release
source code for some part of Windows.  It is not clear whether that
would imply making it free software, or which part of Windows it might
be.  But if Microsoft does make some important part of Windows free
software, it could solve these problems as regards that part.  (It
could also be a contribution to the free software community, if the
software in question could be useful for purposes other than running
other proprietary Microsoft software.)</p>
<p>
However, having the use as free software of a part of Windows is less
crucial than being <em>permitted</em> to implement all parts.  The remedies
proposed above are what we really need.  They will clear the way for
us to develop a truly superior alternative to Microsoft Windows,
in whatever area Microsoft does not make Windows free software.</p>

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<p>Updated:

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$Date: 2014/04/12 13:59:09 $
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