Microsoft releases some of promised Office documentation

Microsoft has released preliminary documentation for how several of its Office business products interact with each other.

Microsoft has released preliminary documentation for how several of its Office business products interact with each other, part of the company's plan to appease regulators by releasing proprietary protocols that help developers make its products more interoperable.

On its Microsoft Developer Network, the company posted this week about 10,000 pages of technical documentation for products that are a part of the Microsoft Office 2007 suite, including Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. The new documents outline the connection points between the products in the suite and bring the total of protocol documentation pages Microsoft has released to about 40,000, the company said.

Specifically, Microsoft published connection protocols between the following products: Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Office client applications; SharePoint Server 2007 and other Microsoft server products; Exchange Server 2007 and Outlook; and Office 2007 client applications and other Microsoft server products.

Now that the documentation for these protocols is public, Microsoft expects feedback from the community on what it can do to improve or change it before the company releases the final versions in June. Microsoft has set up an online forum for this discussion; links to specific forums for different products and protocols can be found there.

Over the past few of years, Microsoft has made efforts to be more transparent in how it links its products together as it has come under fire time and again for its proprietary practices -- particularly from regulators in the European Union for not complying with its antitrust settlement there.

In February, the company made its boldest move yet to appease regulators and critics by outlining a new strategy to provide more access to APIs (application programming interfaces) and previously proprietary protocols for some of its major software products, including Windows and Office.

This week's move is a part of that plan. The company to date has been fined nearly US$2.6 billion by the EU for not keeping in step with its antitrust agreement.

The documentation Microsoft is posting to MSDN Tuesday is available to any developer or third party without a license or royalty fees. Microsoft said that if any of the protocols contained in the documents require patents, the company will release a list of the specific patents and patent applications for the protocol. However, open-source developers won't need patent licenses to develop implementations of these protocols, or for the noncommercial distribution of these implementations, according to Microsoft's previously stated pledge to them.

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