Practical Technology

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Everything you know about networking just changed

I was sure that Microsoft would find some way to wiggle out of the European Union deal to reveal its trade secrets. At the very least, I thought the company would find a way to keep its intellectual property goodies away from open-source groups such as Samba.

I was wrong.

The Samba Group and the Software Freedom Law Center managed to get Microsoft to place all of its network protocols needed for programs to work with Windows Server into the hands of the open-source-friendly Protocol Freedom Information Foundation. This is enormous. This is easily the most significant change for local area networking this century.

I’m not exaggerating. Think about it. AD (Active Directory), CIFS (Common Internet File System), authentication protocols, management protocols—you name it, if it’s involved as Microsoft puts it on its Microsoft Work Group Server Protocol Program site, if it “enables the creation of server software that interoperates with Microsoft Windows server and desktop operating systems and other compatible software,” it’s in there. For the specific protocols that are covered, take a gander at the Microsoft/PFIF Agreement (PDF link) and prepare to be amazed.

Thanks to the European Union’s decision, in stark contrast to the feeble Microsoft-DOJ antitrust deal, Microsoft has had to open up some of its important secrets. Of course, it will cost you 10,000 euros to get access to them, but that’s chicken feed. And, I might add, there are no, repeat no, royalty fees. You pay your 10 Gs upfront, and you’re ready to start developing without owing Microsoft another penny.

Sure, you also don’t get any patent protection. On the other hand, Microsoft was also forced to finally tell us exactly what patents it thinks are involved with these specific programs and protocols. In other words, Microsoft can’t get away with its FUD of hinting that there may be a patent violation in its opponents’ programs.

What does this mean for enterprise users? It means your upfront network server prices are going to crash through the floor. Which would you rather do? Pay for more Windows 2003 CALs (Client Access Licenses) or a new Microsoft Assurance License to make sure you get Server 2008, or get an unlimited number of end users and all the same network services from an inexpensive Linux running the next version of Samba?

I’m not talking about 90 percent of Microsoft services, which is about where we’re at now with Samba; I’m talking about 100 percent. I’m talking about the whole kit and caboodle. Your network administrators only know Microsoft’s way of managing LANs and WANs? So what? There won’t be any learning curve, so there’s no training costs, no time wasted on getting people up to speed fixing the usual day-in and day-out network woes. It will just work.

Bottom line is that this is going to be great for the enterprise’s bottom line.

It’s not just end users and Samba that will benefit from it. Since, for most practical purposes, this opens up AD to all developers, I can see network management and integrator companies developing LAN management programs that add advanced administration and logging tools to AD. I also foresee companies integrating LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol), eDirectory and other directory services with AD.

I also have no doubt that other companies—Sun, IBM, HP, Novell and Red Hat all spring to mind immediately—will take the Microsoft networking information and use it to improve their own Microsoft network integration or offer new functionality and interoperability with AD-style networks.

Ironic isn’t it? By being forced at lawsuit point to open up its networking protocols, Microsoft-style networking is going to become more popular than ever. Now, if Microsoft could get its head out of its proprietary hole in the ground, it could profit from this sea change in networking. As it is, the company will probably only see the harm it’s going to do to its proprietary software sales.

A version of this story first appeared in Linux-Watch.

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