Andrew Tridgell, creator of the Samba server software used by free and open-source software developers alike, made an important contribution to the European Commission\u2019s defense of its 2004 Microsoft antitrust ruling at the Court of First Instance this week. Speaking slowly and loudly with his soft Australian accent, Tridgell\u2019s testimony was compelling not only because it seemed to so effectively refute Microsoft\u2019s arguments, but also because of the way he characterized the world of software development and Microsoft\u2019s role in it.Judge John Cooke, by far the most technology literate of the 13 judges hearing Microsoft\u2019s appeal of the antitrust ruling, asked Tridgell if he ever tests his server software, called Samba, to see if it interoperates smoothly with rivals\u2019 systems.Tridgell\u2019s reply did more to illustrate the problem posed by Microsoft to the rest of the software industry than all the legal and technical explanations offered by the European Commission and its allies during the entire weeklong hearing.\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nAndrew TridgellOnce a year, he said, top software programmers from rival software companies from around the world gather at the DoubleTree Hotel in San Jose, Calif., for what they term a \u201cplugfest.\u201d The engineers bring computers and the software programs they are working on and literally plug them together to see how their programs interoperate. \u201cWe work around the clock for a week. We torture our machines in the pursuit of interoperability,\u201d he told a rapt courtroom.\u201cCan you do this test with Microsoft?\u201d Judge Cooke asked.\u201cYes, but they don\u2019t turn up,\u201d Tridgell said.In an interview after the court adjourned for the day, Tridgell explained that for the past six years, Microsoft has boycotted the event.\u201cThey used to come. It used to be held in Seattle, close to Microsoft\u2019s headquarters,\u201d he said.But the software giant turned its back on the rest of the software community in the late 1990s once it had developed a server operating system it believed it could corner the market with. This marked a turning point for the software industry, Tridgell said. He spoke nostalgically about the days before Microsoft went its separate way. \u201cIt\u2019s not like it used to be. I\u2019d like it to get back to that,\u201d he said. The market for workgroup server operating systems lies at the heart of the European Commission\u2019s antitrust decision against Microsoft. Sun Microsystems, a player in this market, complained to the European competition regulator in 1998 that Microsoft was competing unfairly. That complaint sparked the five-yearlong antitrust investigation.To remedy the situation, the commission ordered Microsoft to divulge interoperability protocols within its own Windows workgroup server operating system. With this information, rival server systems should be able to communicate as fluently with Windows on PCs as Microsoft\u2019s own server system.Two years on from the historic antitrust ruling, the commission contends that Microsoft still hasn\u2019t provided the necessary information, and the commission is poised to issue a new antitrust ruling against the company for failing to comply with its 2004 decision.Even if Microsoft does comply, it isn\u2019t certain that Tridgell and others from the free and open source sides of the software community will be granted access to the information.At the time of the antitrust ruling, Microsoft said the remedy proposed by the then-competition commissioner Mario Monti would result in its valuable intellectual property being given away if it fell into the hands of open-source developers.During the wrangling over how Microsoft complies with the ruling, the commission agreed to withhold access to the protocols that its says must be licensed to rivals from open-source and free-software programmers.\u201cIt\u2019s not certain Samba will benefit, but the IT industry as a whole will," Tridgell said in the interview. "That\u2019s why this case is seminal for the IT industry. The interoperability the commission is demanding from Microsoft will allow the industry to return to the sort of cooperation that existed in the 1990s,\u201d he said. \u201cCooperation is the norm."Windows 2000 for servers, and all subsequent versions, contain Microsoft\u2019s Active Directory, which, according to Microsoft, cannot function fully with rival servers without granting those rivals the ability to clone Microsoft\u2019s own server system.But the interoperability information the commission, and the likes of Tridgell, see as essential for fair competition lies within Active Directory. During its presentations to the court, Microsoft characterized Active Directory in slides presented to the court as a blue bubble containing a cluster of computer towers. The slides attempted to show how Active Directory works in conjunction with other types of servers, such as Web servers, and with client PCs, and how it wouldn\u2019t function if any non-Microsoft server systems were added to Microsoft\u2019s Active Directory. Microsoft claimed that the same interoperability problem would arise if\u00a0someone tried to combine any non-Microsoft work group servers, such as ones made by Sun Microsystems and Novell, together.But Tridgell disagreed, saying that Samba and Unix systems can work together without a problem. He also said Microsoft\u2019s argument distracted from the more important issue, which is that Windows on the PC is becoming less and less tolerant of rivals\u2019 server systems with each new version since the launch of Windows 2000.\u201cWindows on the client PC is becoming decreasingly interoperable and less tolerant of rivals\u2019 server systems,\u201d he said.-Paul Meller, IDG News ServiceThis article is posted on our Microsoft Informer page. For more news on the Redmond, Wash.-based powerhouse, keep checking in.Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.