Microsoft eases software grip

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Microsoft said Thursday that it will open up key parts of its software, boosting interoperability for rivals, customers and developers in what it describes as a "strategic change" to corporate policy.

The move comes just five months after the software giant lost a European court decision regarding its refusal to share key operating information to competitors. It represents Microsoft's long-awaited compliance with demands by EU regulators to share key software information to help rivals.

The company said the new technology and business practices aim to make it easier for developers to create software that works with Microsoft products. The changes involve four new interoperability principles: ensuring open connections, promoting data portability, enhancing support for industry standards and fostering open discussions with customers and the industry.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said he wants to ensure open connections to Microsoft's high-volume products such as Vista and Office 2007 by publishing technical blueprints on its Web site. The company will license some patents at low royalty rates and put out 30,000 pages of Windows documentation that had only been available under a license.

Microsoft also pledged not to sue open-source developers for development or noncommercial distribution of those software blueprints. It also will not force software developers obtain a license or pay royalties or other fees.

The European Commission, which has endured almost a decade of wrangles with Microsoft about its business practices, called on the company to "move toward genuine interoperability." The commission — the EU's antitrust body — said it would still check to see if Microsoft's actual business changes live up to its promises.
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