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May 11th, 2000

[3:00 PM] Microsoft Stumbles (Again) With Latest Efforts To Embrace & Extend
by Bryan Chaffin

Microsoft may have mistepped again, according to a story by Salon. The magazine is reporting that Microsoft has asked the popular Linux and tech oriented Web site Slashdot to remove information it claims to be copyrighted. At issue is Microsoft's implementation of the powerful security protocols known as Kerberos.

Kerberos is designed to keep information safe and is an open source initiative. Microsoft has implemented the Kerberos technology within Windows 2000, but the company has used proprietary extensions that the open source community says violated the open source license. According to the Salon story:

The technology in question, Kerberos, is a security system that authenticates the identity of users logging into networks running the Unix operating system. It is an open standard, developed in part by Theodore Ts'o, a software developer who now works for VA Linux, a company that specializes in computers preinstalled with Linux.

Ts'o and other Kerberos developers became alarmed when Microsoft included in Windows 2000 its own version of Kerberos -- with unpublished and undocumented "extensions" designed, say the developers, to prevent networks running Unix from being able to interoperate with the new version effectively.

Ts'o says that Microsoft has taken extensions of Kerberos that the company "promised two years ago to release freely to universities" and made those extensions proprietary. "They welshed on their promises," Ts'o says. "I'm fairly indignant about it."

"In a nutshell," says Joe Barr, a contributing writer for LinuxWorld who has written extensively on the Kerberos brouhaha, "Microsoft freely associated with an open-standards group and worked with them and then instead took the standard internally and made it proprietary. Almost universally within the Kerberos group, that's seen as an attempt to wrest control."

Slashdot has been asked by Microsoft to remove articles posted on the site that reveal what Microsoft says is copyright protected information. According to Salon, the magazine has no intention of doing so.

This is an excellent article from Salon that contains much more information. We recommend it as a very good read.

The Mac Observer Spin: This has been a favorite tactic of Microsoft for many years. The technique is often called Embrace and Extend which is the practice of seemingly embracing a technology, officially "extending" its capabilities in a proprietary way that usually cripples competing technology, and thereby locking the user into Microsoft's brand. This is only possible for a company that is a monopoly or exercises monopoly power, as is the case with Microsoft in the PC world. For more information on Embrace and Extend, try doing a search with Sherlock for those two words.

It seems repeatedly that Microsoft's lame practices are starting to cause them problems again and again. In this case, the company is not likely to win as they seemingly clearly violated the open source license associated with Kerberos. The company is so used to competing through market share leverage and bullying tactics, it seems that they don't know anything else. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but in any event, we perceive these latest actions to be another major stumble on Microsoft's part.

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