Antitrust hearing, day 4 and 5: bringing out brass knuckles

Normally one might have used the phrase “the gloves are coming off” to describe the what happened on the last two days in court, but that would have implied the gloves were somehow on the days before. So it is probably better described as: putting on the brass knuckles.

The morning of day four started with a very strong presentation by the interveners, including Andrew Tridgell, president and founder of the Samba Team, who spoke on behalf of the Free Software Foundation Europe, you might already have seen some media echo. He essentially popped the blue bubble filling the heads of the Microsoft representatives and (occasionally) the screens.

The theory of the blue bubble is that some network protocols are more equal than others. Microsoft described them as “closely coupled” before in the interim measures hearing, and now to all Microsoft Active Directory server to server communication. Indeed, the bubble of Microsoft claims to “super protocols” has been shrinking over time and while shrinking, the bubble turned blue.

They claimed that no other vendor could provide “intra-bubble functionality” because identical logic on all hosts would be the prerequisite for their multi-master-replication. Tridge popped that bubble easily, also clearing up a couple of other misinformations Microsoft was so kind to provide to the court.

Later in the day, Microsoft’s distinguished engineer, the infamous Mr Shewchuck tried to go mano a mano with Free Software’s competent engineer Mr Tridgell, and didn’t look too good.

Microsoft then (involuntarily) managed to make one of the best cases against software patents I’ve witnessed in a while — essentially proving that software patents are mainly good to build and enforce cartels and that they are fundamentally contradictory to interoperability, which could only be achieved through compulsory licensing. Unfortunately most people in the room may not have realised this as clearly.

Day five then began with the final pleadings by Microsoft and its interveners, followed by the Commission. A clear victory by points for the Commission in my eyes. Funnily enough, Mr Shewchuck then tried to get back at Tridge for having disassembled him the day before, and failed miserably: Wanting to portray Samba as much more powerful than it is and implying the destructive nature of Samba, he referenced to a recent presentation by Tridge in New Zealand about the “Samba Vampire.”

Tridge told him to be more careful with secondary information he finds on the internet and briefly showed a couple of slides from that presentation that did not leave a very good impression of the competence of Microsoft distinguished engineers.

You can see, it was getting hairier. Indeed, Microsoft gave a new meaning to the word obnoxious. They were constantly trying to attack anyone and everyone, trying to throw sand into the wheels of the Court and the eyes of everying present until it became very hard to bear.

While it is far outside the scope of this blog and my capabilities to summarise 16hrs of intense legal battle, let it suffice that Microsoft representatives were repeatedly making outrageously false statements to the Court while maintaining a straight face.

If you ask me for my overall impression, I would say that the European Commission and its interveners did well. There are no guarantees and how the judges will decide is exclusively their knowledge, but I am positive that all of us on the Commission side presented a strong case.

There is hope that Microsoft will not get away with taking public protocols, putting them into a blue bubble of secrecy, and using this in combination with their desktop monopoly as an instrument to take over all of information technology.

My heartfelt thanks go to Carlo Piana, FSFE’s lawyer on the case, Andrew Tridgell of the Samba Team, who came all the way from Australia to be our top-expert, and everyone else who participated in the interveners team on the side of the Commission.

About Georg Greve

Georg Greve is a technologist and entrepreneur. Background as a software developer and physicist. Head of product development and Chairman at Vereign AG. Founding president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE). Previously president and CEO at Kolab Systems AG, a Swiss Open Source ISV. In 2009 Georg was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon by the Federal Republic of Germany for his contributions to Open Source and Open Standards.
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