Today has seen some major changes to the way Microsoft operates. Microsoft are releasing information on their communication protocols as well as API's for Office which will let 3rd party applications communicate more effectively with Microsoft Platforms including Windows Clients, Servers and SharePoint Server 2007. These were only previously released under trade secret agreements, now they're open to us all. The Microsoft web site states:
Ensuring open connections to Microsoft’s high-volume products. To enhance connections with third-party products, Microsoft will publish on its Web site documentation for all application programming interfaces (APIs) and communications protocols in its high-volume products that are used by other Microsoft products. Developers do not need to take a license or pay a royalty or other fee to access this information. Open access to this documentation will ensure that third-party developers can connect to Microsoft’s high-volume products just as Microsoft’s other products do.
As an immediate next step, starting today Microsoft will openly publish on MSDN over 30,000 pages of documentation for Windows client and server protocols that were previously available only under a trade secret license through the Microsoft Work Group Server Protocol Program (WSPP) and the Microsoft Communication Protocol Program (MCPP). Protocol documentation for additional products, such as Office 2007 and all of the other high-volume products covered by these principles, will be published in the upcoming months.
Microsoft will indicate on its Web site which protocols are covered by Microsoft patents and will license all of these patents on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, at low royalty rates. To assist those interested in considering a patent license, Microsoft will make available a list of specific Microsoft patents and patent applications that cover each protocol.
Microsoft is providing a covenant not to sue open source developers for development or non-commercial distribution of implementations of these protocols. These developers will be able to use the documentation for free to develop products. Companies that engage in commercial distribution of these protocol implementations will be able to obtain a patent license from Microsoft, as will enterprises that obtain these implementations from a distributor that does not have such a patent license.
Documenting how Microsoft supports industry standards and extensions. To increase transparency and promote interoperability, when Microsoft supports a standard in a high-volume product, it will work with other major implementers of the standard toward achieving robust, consistent and interoperable implementations across a broad range of widely deployed products.
Microsoft will document for the development community how it supports such standards, including those Microsoft extensions that affect interoperability with other implementations of these standards. This documentation will be published on Microsoft’s Web site and it will be accessible without a license, royalty or other fee. These actions will allow third-party developers implementing standards to understand how a standard is used in a Microsoft product and foster improved interoperability for customers. Microsoft will make available a list of any of its patents that cover any of these extensions, and will make available patent licenses on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.
Enhancing Office 2007 to provide greater flexibility of document formats. To promote user choice among document formats, Microsoft will design new APIs for the Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications in Office 2007 to enable developers to plug in additional document formats and to enable users to set these formats as their default for saving documents.
Launching the Open Source Interoperability Initiative. To promote and enable more interoperability between commercial and community-based open source technologies and Microsoft products, this initiative will provide resources, facilities and events, including labs, plug fests, technical content and opportunities for ongoing cooperative development.
Expanding industry outreach and dialogue. An ongoing dialogue with customers, developers and open source communities will be created through an online Interoperability Forum. In addition, a Document Interoperability Initiative will be launched to address data exchange between widely deployed formats.
Something to note however, if you intend to make money using these protocols and API's then you seem to have to contact Microsoft regarding licensing. This is the day Microsoft embraced Open Source.