Redmond gives ground on multiple fronts after fight

Co-existens seems to be Microsoft's new watch-word

Microsoft has used many slogans in its 30 years of existence. Remember “Where do you want to go today?”

But let’s face it, other, more potent mottoes have guided the actions of the company and its executives throughout the years. Take “embrace and extend”, a phrase that’s been used to describe the company’s tendency to co-opt open standards such as Java in order to better promote its software.

But in two key areas this month, Microsoft conceded to the demands of competitors, regulators and third-party ISVs, agreeing to make proprietary code and APIs available that will put competitors a more equal footing with its products.

Following the most visible dispute, Microsoft has released APIs that allow third-party security vendors to disable the Vista Security Centre, a management console for security products. In recent weeks, executives from Microsoft, McAfee and Symantec have traded barbs in the press over access to the Security Centre, which Symantec and McAfee say disadvantages their products. The European Commission also expressed concern over whether Security Centre and other Vista security features might stifle innovation.

Just as important, Microsoft promised to create APIs that allow third-party vendors such as Symantec to get around a kernel-level security feature in 64-bit versions of Vista known as PatchGuard.

Symantec, in particular, has argued that PatchGuard, which prevents modifications to the operating system kernel, limits the ability to protect its customers against some kinds of malicious code. Microsoft has been talking with security companies recently to discuss ways that it could help work around PatchGuard’s protections.

But it isn’t just security where Microsoft has given ground. The company has also made concessions on virtualisation technology, agreeing last week to make its specification for its VHD (Virtual Hard Drive) virtualisation software freely available to all software developers. Microsoft has already licensed VHD to around 60 companies and hopes that throwing the doors open on the software will spur sales of around 500,000 of its virtualised servers this year.

Microsoft’s concessions are an indication that the company is maturing and developing a more holistic idea of what is in its best interests, says Paul DeGroot, an analyst at Microsoft analyst firm Directions on Microsoft.

“In the past they’ve been driven by individual product groups deciding ‘what’s best for our product’.”

This time, Microsoft may have decided that breaking down barriers to the adoption of Microsoft products is in its long-run interest, DeGroot says.

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