The following is a combined, and very slightly edited, transcript, in Q&A format, of my emails with Ridgeway. My questions appear in italics, his answers are normal text.
Judge Jackson has ruled that MS is a monopoly, and proposed a two-part
breakup where Microsoft will be split into an OS portion and an
Applications portion. The terms of the ruling include the stipulation
that the OS company cannot share any technical information with the App
company that it does not make simultaneously available to anyone else
under the same terms.
How does the WINE project feel about this ruling, in general? Do you
think it was deserved, and will acheive it's goal of promoting
competition in the software market?
I'm not sure that I can speak "for the project", which is, after all, just
a group of people with some shared ideas about code. From what I
understand about the case, it seems clear that Microsoft has made a
practice of engaging in behavior which is illegal under the Sherman act.
I don't know whether or not the ruling, if/when implemented, will promote
competition. The argument that it will simply create two monopolies holds
some weight with me. However, it seems like it may help prevent Microsoft
from illegally extending its monopoly into other areas.
More specifically to WINE, do you believe it will help your project
achieve it's ultimate plans of fully re-implementing the Windows APIs
If and when the breakup does occur, will WINE license or otherwise
attempt to obtain the same API documentation that the Windows
Application company will need?
If more info becomes available, we'll use it, but I don't think it has a
big impact on the people writing code. Think about it: suppose there's a
call you don't understand. Right now, your options are to read the
available docs and do some experimentation and reverse engineering. After
the ruling is implemented, you might, at best, have the additional option
of filing a legal challenge in order to get access to some mythical
"internal documentation" or the source. I suspect that even if this
becomes possible, the former options will still be easiest for most of the
developers most of the time.
Let me give you an example. I've been offered the source for Windows 95
multiple times, both in original and reverse engineered form. I've turned
it down. I don't see any use for the original source in any coding that
I've done, and other coders I've talked to feel similarly.
If you will seek the API documentation, will this change the direction
or focus of WINE in any way? Is there anything that the WINE developers
really want to do, but thought they'd never be able to implement because
of the previously non-existent chances of getting detailed and accurate
API docs from Microsoft?
No. Secret APIs in Windows were mostly a Windows 3.x thing, and went out
after the 1995 consent decree. Microsoft's strategy since then to protect
the Windows franchise has been quantity, not secrecy: add new APIs, and
blackmail developers into using them. (ActiveMedia, eg.)
What I thought might most affect the WINE project was the part of the
ruling that the OS nanosoft can't make API docs available to the apps
nanosoft without making them simultaneously available to anyone else,
under the same terms. I understand that the biggest challenge for WINE
has been the "moving target" problem-- do you think the "open spec"
condition will slow the pace of development of new APIs, since it will
no longer be so easy for MS to rapidly develop APIs and implement
applications on them in-house, before making any information available
to anyone else?
I think that it will slow the "moving target". This is in fact the key
point -- it's precisely what Microsoft execs are referring to when they
speak about the "freedom to innovate". So it's recognized that this is
where the true anticompetitive aspects of the Windows franchise lie, and
this is the most important thing for Microsoft.
Note that it's not really a question of when / how documentation is made
public. Users won't buy a new version of Windows because it supports a new
API, they care about running apps. So you can only force an upgrade if you
convince application developers to require the new API. Unless the API
provides truly new and unique functionality (something Turing showed
impossible early last century) application developers have no incentive to
use the new API, because it would reduce their market by requiring users
to upgrade. So there's a problem introducing the new API. Microsoft solves
this by controlling both the OS and major applications: they can use their
new API in their own apps, using their control of both to maintain their
monopoly ("freedom to innovate"). Publicizing the documentation is
irrelevant to this dynamic, and is necessary to get third parties to use
the API anyway. (Other, less straightforward mechanisms are required to
blackmail third party developers into adopting new APIs.)
Also, if the OS nanosoft has to openly share information with the App
nanosoft, will this assist WINE in it's reverse engineering efforts? My
thinking is, OS nanosoft develops new API. They must make either the
docs or actual working binaries available openly, before the App
nanosoft can develop to the new API, so WINE developers could start
reverse angineering and re-implementing the new API at the same time as
the Applications nanosoft begins developing for it, thus potentially
cutting the lag time between a new MS API and the WINE implementation of
it. Does this situation seem likely to you at all?
Again, I don't think it's a matter of documentation, it's a matter of
whether Microsoft can force adoption. Unused APIs don't matter. Microsoft
knows that a fixed target, no matter how complex, badly designed and
documented, can be cloned. They must maintain the pace of change in order
to maintain their position, no matter what the social costs are.
Do you think this decision will change or accelerate your timeline for
having a more complete and stable product? Will we be seeing MS Office
on Linux in the near future?
No, and no, unless the Office Nanosoft decides to do a port.
Are there any other comments you'd like to make about WINE, the breakup,
or, really, anything at all? :-)
It'll be interesting to see what comes out of the antitrust effort. But I
really see it as an entirely orthogonal effort to Wine.
I, and the Kuro5hin readers, very much appreciate your time answering
these questions, and we wish you and the whole WINE team the best of