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Microsoft’s New Openness Is About Making It Easier For You To Do What They Want You To Do

Posted by Bob Warfield on February 21, 2008

Om Malik says Microsoft’s newfound openness is all about not having the EU try to shut down their proposed Yahoo acquisition.  As he says, “Microsoft is worried, scratch that, very worried about developers leaving them in the cold.”

Let’s look at the announcement’s major components:

Ensuring open connections to Microsoft’s high-volume products.

Microsoft is going to publish documentation for all API’s and communications protocols for its high volume products.  Originally, these API’s were regarded as trade secrets, and if you could gain access to them at all, it was only via negotiating a deal with Microsoft.

Translation:  We found that giving our own developers proprietary advantages wasn’t nearly as helpful as making sure outside developers tie back to our products.  Remember that this announcement only matters if you plan to add further support for Microsoft products.  This is exactly what Microsoft wants you to do to help cement the market position for these products.  In addition, you do all the work.  By the way, some of this is covered by Microsoft patents.  In their announcment, Microsoft says they will license those patents at “low royalty rates.”  So you may have to pay for the privilege of modifying your products to help Microsoft further improve their market position.

If you are an Open Source developer, Microsoft will further agree not to sue you if you support the protocols and help them advance Microsoft dominance.  However, they only promise to do this for developer and non-commercial distributions.  If you actually have the temerity to want to make a living doing what you do, you will have to negotiate further with Microsoft.  Remember, this is the King’s forest, and all of the game in the forest belongs to the King.

Documenting How Microsoft Supports Industry Standards and Extensions.

Whenever Microsoft uses an industry standard, it will document how it supports the standard including Microsoft extensions to the standard that affect interoperability with other standards.  These actions will allow third-party developers implementing standards to understand how a standard is used in a Microsoft product.  Microsoft will make available patent licenses on reasonable terms.

Translation:  All your standards are belong to Microsoft.  We may use them, as we see fit, and we may even deviate signficantly from them while still claiming to be using the standard.  If you want to survive, you’d better implement our deviant behaviours when you use the standard too.  This is called “embrace and extend” and is how Microsoft has taken many balls away from the other kids on the playground.  And BTW, we may patent your standard and make you pay us to use it. 

Enhancing Office 2007 to provide greater flexibility of document formats.

To promote user choice of document formats, Microsoft will design new API’s for the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint applications to enable developers to plug in additional document formats and to enable users to set these formats as their default for saving documents.

Translation:  Your pitiful rebel alliance will get no further.  We want you to invest in writing the file translators for your formats to make it easier for us to take back what is rightfully ours.  No matter what you think you may have invented, if it ain’t in Office, it ain’t relevant.

Launching the Open Souce Interoperability Initiative

Microsoft will provide resources, facilities, and events, including labs, plug fests, technical content, and opportunities for ongoing cooperative development.

Translation:  Hey, bring your code.  We want to check it out.  We want to hire you, and if not, we want to indoctrinate you to our way of thinking.

Expanding industry outreach and dialogue.

An ongoing dialogue with customers, developers and open source communities will be created through an online Interoperability Forum.

Translation:  Your suggestions will be duly noted, harvested, and the remainder will be filed as appropriate.  Thank you for your support.

Is this really groundbreaking?

I don’t know about you, but I did not find this announcement to be especially groundbreaking.  Microsoft wants to make it easier for you to do what they have always wanted you to do:  totally embrace their technologies and quit wasting so much time making them chase you outside their sphere of competence.  I can’t blame them for trying, and no doubt some of this will be helpful to others. 

Erick Schonfeld at Techcrunch says, “Redmond has finally decided to stop trying to fight open-source software.”  I cannot find much of a hint in Microsoft’s annoucement that this is the case.  Schonfeld bases this premise on the idea they won’t sue the Open Sourcers for infringement on Microsoft’s protocols.  Wow, the lawsuit game sure worked well for SCO.  I’m not sure Microsoft was eager to follow that route nor does the weasel language about “developer and non-commercial” use leave me with any great confidence they won’t just turn around and sue anyway.  Erick’s article included a poll that indicated (at least when I took it) that the majority who answered the poll remain deeply suspicious of Microsoft.

I’m not surprised.  They’re not doing anyone any favors.  Most importantly, they still have the mindset that the only ones going to make money from the Microsoft ecosphere are Microsoft.  Until they get past that, things are unchanged.  Microsoft still has a significant rift with the web.

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One Response to “Microsoft’s New Openness Is About Making It Easier For You To Do What They Want You To Do”

  1. kfarnham said

    Since my primary work is for an cross-platform open source project (ThreadingBuildingBlocks.org), I found this announcement quite interesting as well. I think the problem for developers and software companies, when it comes to integrating open source libraries, toolkits, etc., into a Microsoft Platform application, is going to be: how can we be sure that Microsoft will continue to support the proclaimed openness and interoperability long into the future?

    I’ve been a manager of an enterprise-level Microsoft Platform product development team. We stayed with Microsoft-only components. That was convenient, and the risk of bringing something else in and having it turn into a future nightmare as Microsoft’s path diverged from that of the third-party (perhaps open source) component or library — seemed too great.

    I wish Microsoft really wanted to embrace open source. If they did, then projects like the one I work on would have a much better chance of gaining traction, genuinely providing developers with the “choice” MSFT claims it wants to provide.

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