Open Windows angers developers

Microsoft's attempt to reveal hidden programming features within Windows has received a resounding gong from developers who...

Microsoft's attempt to reveal hidden programming features within Windows has received a resounding gong from developers who accuse the company of continuing to stifle competition.

Microsoft announced earlier this week it would publish nearly 300 programming hooks to access hidden features of the Windows operating system (known as application programming interfaces - APIs).

These were previously undocumented. In the past, third-party developers have accused the software giant of exploiting its detailed knowledge of the operating system within its own application software products.

Documenting these hidden interfaces should level the playing field for third-party Windows software developers - and provide internal development teams with businesses with more control over their Windows systems.

But industry observers note that simply turning over APIs does not necessarily make a developer's job any easier. With thousands of APIs in Windows, many of which have overlapping functions, developers are often left to guess which one they should choose for their particular function.

One expert noted, "The problem for a developer is if you pick an API that seems to do the right thing, it may in fact be one that is either out of synch with everyone else, or been abandoned."

Jon Tetzchner, chief executive officers of Opera Software, an Oslo -based company that makes a competing browser product, said, "[The APIs] are definitely not any help to us at all."

He added that the only use for the APIs was to simplify software development in companies that wanted to use Microsoft's own software, which clearly benefits Microsoft commercially.

The best remedy is for Microsoft to offer a version of Windows without Internet Explorer at a lower price, Tetzchner said.

"Microsoft says they will let you hide Explorer, but that won't change anything. Users will still have to pay for it in Windows, and even if they hide it, the code still takes up disk space," he said.

While only a handful of viable competitors are left who are anxious to get their hands on the newly released APIs - such as AOL for browsers and messaging, and Real Networks with its media player - there are many more in the networking world whose products need to be tightly integrated in order to work well across platforms.

The harsh feedback comes at a critical time for Microsoft, which continues to suffer significant enterprise backlash over its Software Assurance licensing scheme.

Yankee Group reported last week that 38% of 1,500 IT managers surveyed worldwide are contemplating the switch to alternative operating systems, such as Linux, Mac OS X, Novell eDirectory, or iPlanet or Apache Web servers.

"[But] it may not be economically feasible for them to rip out and replace Microsoft," said Laura DiDio, senior analyst at the Yankee Group in Boston.

While few analysts believe the licensing backlash would have a significant impact on Microsoft in the short term, combined with the API furore it has the potential to harm the company's quest to bolster its sagging credibility in the enterprise.

"Obviously, Microsoft is doing this to show that they are open, but it's mostly a PR move," said Shawn Willett, principal analyst at Current Analysis.

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