A little late on this, but better late than never. By now, you’ve probably heard about the Microsoft press release regarding “New interoperability principles and actions”:
Microsoft Corp. today announced a set of broad-reaching changes to its technology and business practices to increase the openness of its products and drive greater interoperability, opportunity and choice for developers, partners, customers and competitors.
Specifically, Microsoft is implementing four new interoperability principles and corresponding actions across its high-volume business products: (1) ensuring open connections; (2) promoting data portability; (3) enhancing support for industry standards; and (4) fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities.
“These steps represent an important step and significant change in how we share information about our products and technologies,” said Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer. “For the past 33 years, we have shared a lot of information with hundreds of thousands of partners around the world and helped build the industry, but today’s announcement represents a significant expansion toward even greater transparency. Our goal is to promote greater interoperability, opportunity and choice for customers and developers throughout the industry by making our products more open and by sharing even more information about our technologies.”
As you may have guessed, the blogosphere was abuzz with activity shortly after the announcement. First, let’s start with the basics. The products covered in this announcement are: Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007, and future versions of all these products. The key promises are: “Ensuring open connections to Microsoft’s high-volume products”, “Documenting how Microsoft supports industry standards and extensions”, “Enhancing Office 2007 to provide greater flexibility of document formats”, “Launching the Open Source Interoperability Initiative” and “Expanding industry outreach and dialogue”. While I see the word Open Source being used quite a bit in conjunction with this release, I see very little reason why. This is about API and protocol access for the most part. This will certainly help Open Source developers, but it isn’t Microsoft actually opening any code (or even changing their stance on Open Source from what I can tell).
Let me say that this could be the beginning of a fairly major shift for Microsoft, a change that most feel is long overdue. As usual though, the devil is in the details. Is this announcement fluff or substance? The first major hole I see is that the “covenant not to sue open source developers”, along with some other pieces, only pertain to “non-commercial” distribution/implementation. This makes room for a lot of gray area on how you define commercial use. Also, from what I can tell, the patent provision terms discussed in the announcement are not compatible with most Open Source licenses. That being said, it’s also a far cry from Microsoft calling Linux a cancer, so it’s certainly a step in the right direction. The real driver here, however, is almost certainly customer demand and a landscape that is shifting underneath the feet of Microsoft. I think the 451 group puts it well:
“Nudged by the European Union’s Court of First Instance, but more likely the result of a hard look at market dynamics and the competition, Microsoft has opened up its APIs and pledged to work more openly with the rest of the industry, including the open source community, on interoperability and standards issues. It’s an acknowledgment that in today’s world, many more flowers bloom when platform companies make their APIs completely open for developers to write to, a la Google and MSFT’s recent investee, Facebook. This is yet another thing Google has taught the largest software company in the world. It appears on the face of it that Microsoft now intends to live by the merit of its products, rather than rely on lock-in.
“As a result, developers should 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 open 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.”
As it stands, whether this is a major announcement or a marketing fluff piece will become apparent in the coming months (and years). As real news comes forth, I’ll certainly be following it and will post updates. In the meantime, here is some additional reading:
Mary Jo Foley
Response from Red Hat
One final note. I think one thing is absolutely clear. If this is to be the beginning of real change for MSFT, Ballmer has to go. I’ve said that before and I stand by it. It will not be possible for them to change with him in charge. Don’t think so? During all the talk of openness from Microsoft during this announcement, I leave you with his words from the press conference:
BRAD SMITH: With respect to other (commercial) distributors, and users, the clear message is that patent licenses will be freely available.
STEVE BALLMER: Patents will be, not freely, will be available.
BRAD SMITH: Readily available.
STEVE BALLMER: Readily available for the right fee.