Ridiculous EU Fine

2/16/2006 10:09:59 AM

Ridiculous EU Fine

The European Union is planning to fine Microsoft $2.4 million daily for not providing technical information to allow rivals to work with Microsoft protocols.

Microsoft submitted 12,000 pages of technical documentation, which it claimed took hundreds of employees and contractors over 30,000 hours to create. The EU hired an independent college professor to evaluate whether the documentation performed its intended purpose, and the professor claimed it did not.

Microsoft then offered access to the source code as well. The EU rejected the source code as irrelevant to its demands, because developers are required to produce documentation with code. It appears the officials never heard the saying “the code is documentation” or read Cusumano and Selby’s “Microsoft Secrets,” in which the authors observed that Microsoft “programmers in general did not write detailed designs, but went straight from a functional specification to coding in order to save time and not waste effort writing specs for features that teams might later delete.” I have heard that software engineering is a more formal discipline in Europe than in the U.S., so the officials are probably working from different cultural assumptions.

The whole EU position seems like a no-win situation for Microsoft. What Microsoft is offering, documentation and source code, seems more than sufficient. Of course, source code is relevant; it often is the best documentation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft is offering more documentation than their own developers are using.

I also question the use of a single consultant from academia to evaluate Microsoft’s offerings—someone who is not a practitioner and may have unrealistic expectations from the documentation (something as user-friendly as MSDN)—and also whether one person can adequately evaluate complex, low-level interfaces, developed by many people. I suspect no documentation would pass his test.

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Net Undocumented is a blog about the internals of .NET including Xamarin implementations. Other topics include managed and web languages (C#, C++, Javascript), computer science theory, software engineering and software entrepreneurship.

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