Microsoft Corp. today announced a set of broad-reaching changes to its technology and business practices to increase the openness of its products and drive greater interoperability, opportunity and choice for developers, partners, customers and competitors.

Specifically, Microsoft is implementing four new interoperability principles and corresponding actions across its high-volume business products: (1) ensuring open connections; (2) promoting data portability; (3) enhancing support for industry standards; and (4) fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities.

“These steps represent an important step and significant change in how we share information about our products and technologies,” said Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer. “For the past 33 years, we have shared a lot of information with hundreds of thousands of partners around the world and helped build the industry, but today’s announcement represents a significant expansion toward even greater transparency. Our goal is to promote greater interoperability, opportunity According to Ray Ozzie, Microsoft chief software architect, the company’s announcement reflects the significance that individuals and businesses place upon the ease of information-sharing. As heterogeneity is the norm within enterprise architectures, interoperability across applications and services has become a key requirement.

“Customers need all their vendors, including and especially Microsoft, to deliver software and services that are flexible enough such that any developer can use their open interfaces and data to effectively integrate applications or to compose entirely new solutions,” said Ozzie. “By increasing the openness of our products, we will provide developers additional opportunity to innovate and deliver value for customers.”

“The principles and actions announced today by Microsoft are a very significant expansion of its efforts to promote interoperability,” said Manfred Wangler, vice president, Corporate Research and Technology, Software and Engineering, Siemens. “While Microsoft has made considerable progress on interoperability over the past several years, including working with us on the Interoperability Executive Customer Council, today’s news take Microsoft’s interoperability commitment to a whole new level.”

“The interoperability principles and actions announced today by Microsoft will benefit the broader IT community,” said Thomas Vogel, head, Information Management, Novartis Pharma. “Ensuring open connections to Microsoft’s high-volume products presents significant opportunities for the vast majority of software developers, which will help foster greater interoperability, opportunity and choice in the marketplace. We look forward to a constructive, structured, and multilateral dialogue to ensure stakeholder-driven evolution of these principles and actions.”

The interoperability principles and actions announced today apply to the following high-volume Microsoft products: Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007, and future versions of all these products. Highlights of the specific actions Microsoft is taking to implement its new interoperability principles are described below.

Ensuring open connections to Microsoft’s high-volume products. To enhance connections with third-party products, Microsoft will publish on its Web site documentation for all application programming interfaces (APIs) and communications protocols in its high-volume products that are used by other Microsoft products. Developers do not need to take a license or pay a royalty or other fee to access this information. Open access to this documentation will ensure that third-party developers can connect to Microsoft’s high-volume products just as Microsoft’s other products do.

As an immediate next step, starting today Microsoft will openly publish on MSDN over 30,000 pages of documentation for Windows client and server protocols that were previously available only under a trade secret license through the Microsoft Work Group Server Protocol Program (WSPP) and the Microsoft Communication Protocol Program (MCPP). Protocol documentation for additional products, such as Office 2007 and all of the other high-volume products covered by these principles, will be published in the upcoming months.

Microsoft will indicate on its Web site which protocols are covered by Microsoft patents and will license all of these patents on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, at low royalty rates. To assist those interested in considering a patent license, Microsoft will make available a list of specific Microsoft patents and patent applications that cover each protocol.

Microsoft is providing a covenant not to sue open source developers for development or non-commercial distribution of implementations of these protocols. These developers will be able to use the documentation for free to develop products. Companies that engage in commercial distribution of these protocol implementations will be able to obtain a patent license from Microsoft, as will enterprises that obtain these implementations from a distributor that does not have such a patent license.

Documenting how Microsoft supports industry standards and extensions. To increase transparency and promote interoperability, when Microsoft supports a standard in a high-volume product, it will work with other major implementers of the standard toward achieving robust, consistent and interoperable implementations across a broad range of widely deployed products.

Microsoft will document for the development community how it supports such standards, including those Microsoft extensions that affect interoperability with other implementations of these standards. This documentation will be published on Microsoft’s Web site and it will be accessible without a license, royalty or other fee. These actions will allow third-party developers implementing standards to understand how a standard is used in a Microsoft product and foster improved interoperability for customers. Microsoft will make available a list of any of its patents that cover any of these extensions, and will make available patent licenses on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.

Enhancing Office 2007 to provide greater flexibility of document formats. To promote user choice among document formats, Microsoft will design new APIs for the Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications in Office 2007 to enable developers to plug in additional document formats and to enable users to set these formats as their default for saving documents.

Launching the Open Source Interoperability Initiative. To promote and enable more interoperability between commercial and community-based open source technologies and Microsoft products, this initiative will provide resources, facilities and events, including labs, plug fests, technical content and opportunities for ongoing cooperative development.

Expanding industry outreach and dialogue. An ongoing dialogue with customers, developers and open source communities will be created through an online Interoperability Forum. In addition, a Document Interoperability Initiative will be launched to address data exchange between widely deployed formats.

The Interoperability Executive Customer (IEC) Council, an advisory organization established in 2006 and consisting mainly of chief information and technology officers from more than 40 companies and government bodies around the world, will help guide Microsoft in its work under these principles and actions. The full text of Microsoft’s new Interoperability Principles, and a full list of the actions Microsoft is taking, can be found on Microsoft’s Interoperability site.

The interoperability principles and actions announced today reflect the changed legal landscape for Microsoft and the IT industry. They are an important step forward for the company in its ongoing efforts to fulfill the responsibilities and obligations outlined in the September 2007 judgment of the European Court of First Instance (CFI).

“As we said immediately after the CFI decision last September, Microsoft is committed to taking all necessary steps to ensure we are in full compliance with European law,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel. “Through the initiatives we are announcing, we are taking responsibility for implementing the principles in the interoperability portion of the CFI decision across all of Microsoft’s high-volume products. We will take additional steps in the coming weeks to address the remaining portion of the CFI decision, and we are committed to providing full information to the European Commission so it can evaluate all of these steps.”