Microsoft has announced plans to offer free access to all the APIs and protocols implemented in Windows Vista, in a move set to have huge implications for the company's customers and competitors.

The .NET Framework, Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007 and Office SharePoint Server 2007 are among the products covered by the move, which was announced by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Chief software architect Ray Ozzie, head of the Server and Tools division Bob Muglia and Brad Smith, the company's senior legal officer, joined Ballmer for the announcement.

The Server and Tools division oversees some of the most significant Microsoft business products, such as Windows Server, Visual Studio and SQL Server, new versions of which Microsoft plans to launch in Los Angeles at the end of February. Another major enterprise product for Microsoft, Exchange Server, also is a part of this business.

With the announcement Microsoft pledged to work more openly with the rest of the industry, including the open source community, on interoperability and standards issues.

"This will have huge implications for Microsoft customers, competitors and partners.

"Microsoft would have it that it intends to live by the merit of its products, rather than rely on lock-in. The reality is its business model is based on dominance. The lock-in mentality and commercial realities haven't gone away, " said Janice McGinn, The 451 Group's research director, CIO Practice, "but it's a huge, disruptive shift.

Matt Aslett, open source analyst with the 451 Group added: "Developers gain the potential to tie applications more closely into Microsoft's Windows, SQL Server, Office and Exchange Server products with greater flexibility and innovation, perhaps through self-sustaining developer communities.

"SharePoint could also benefit from a platform approach, becoming a de facto central application for large segments of the market.

"And Microsoft is aiming to make offeropen source applications run as well on Windows as they do on Linux, enabling it to continue competing against Linux while at the same time accepting and working to support open source projects."

The move appears to have been precipitated partly by the ongoing skirmishes between Microsoft and the European Unionauthorities, but is also "the result of a hard look at market dynamics and the competition", said McGinn.