The European Commission is in danger of letting computer colossus Microsoft off its regulatory hook far too lightly, claims the Free Software Foundation - a loose alliance of independent software developers based in Boston USA.

The FSF is none too happy at the EC's proposed settlement with Microsoft [WAMN: 08-Jun-05], arguing it is over-lenient.

"Free software is a matter of liberty not price. You should think of "free" as in "free speech," avers the organization, whose aim is to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues surrounding freedom in the use of software.

Says FSF lawyer Carlo Piana: "The proposed agreement still bluntly excludes [developers of] free software . . . from accessing the information. The very fact that the proposal of Microsoft is a licensing agreement is something we contest, because compatibility information is not licensable."

Among the 'concessions' offered in Microsoft's compromise with the EC are more varied and flexible licensing terms [protocols] for programming information that rivals need to write Microsoft-compatible software.

But the FSF complains that the software titan's current stance makes it impossible to distribute free software programmes developed with the help of its protocols - but only if the latter have no "innovative value", a wondrously imprecise term likely concocted from different pages of the office distionary by Microsoft's legion of lawyers.

This is insufficient, maintains Piana: "We say that all of the protocols and interfaces have no innovative value, but entering into this discussion could open a Pandora's box of litigation."

He synopsized Microsoft's 'concession' in masterly fashion: it had, said the FSF lawyer, agreed to "disclose the interoperability information to anybody, except to those who compete with it."

An EC spokesman remained inscrutable: "The Commission will take due account of all the feedback it receives during the market testing."

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff