Microsoft embracing 'Open' – can a leopard change its spots?

In a surprise announcement yesterday, Microsoft vowed to increase the openness of its key products!

Yes this is still February, April 1st is several weeks away yet!

So what did Microsoft say in this release? Well,

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

Several times in the last few years I have advocated for Microsoft to Open Source Windows and Internet Explorer and while this announcement doesn’t go that far, it does seem to be a step in the right direction.

According to Microsoft’s CEO-in-waiting and current Chief Software Architect, Ray Ozzie

“Customers need all their vendors, including and especially Microsoft, to deliver software and services that are flexible enough such that any developer can use their open interfaces and data to effectively integrate applications or to compose entirely new solutions,” said Ozzie. “By increasing the openness of our products, we will provide developers additional opportunity to innovate and deliver value for customers.”

The Microsoft products this refers to 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 full documentation of the Interoperability Principles can be found on the Microsoft Interoperability site.

Apart from any great desire on Microsoft’s part to start playing nice with all the other kids on the block, a big driver for this move is Microsoft’s need to fulfill the obligations outlined in the September 2007 judgment of the European Court of First Instance (CFI).

“As we said immediately after the CFI decision last September, Microsoft is committed to taking all necessary steps to ensure we are in full compliance with European law,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel. “Through the initiatives we are announcing, we are taking responsibility for implementing the principles in the interoperability portion of the CFI decision across all of Microsoft’s high-volume products. We will take additional steps in the coming weeks to address the remaining portion of the CFI decision, and we are committed to providing full information to the European Commission so it can evaluate all of these steps.”

Things do look good when you hear Bill Hilf (Microsoft’s general manager of Windows Server Marketing and Platform Strategy) saying things like:

Long-term success for Microsoft depends on our ability to deliver a platform that is open, flexible, and provides customers and developers with choice. These choices include Microsoft and open source technologies working together, and this will continue to be the case in the future. By increasing the openness of high volume products across APIs, protocols, and standards, we can continue to provide the platform that offers developers and businesses, including those based on open-source technologies, the broadest range of opportunities to innovate, deliver value, and create seamless experiences for end users.

Although the announcement makes specific mention of Windows Vista, I am not sure if it includes Internet Explorer. Given Opera CTO HÃ¥kon Wium Lie‘s recent valid criticisms of Internet Explorer, it would obviously be good for everyone if Microsoft reversed course on Internet Explorer, took some of Lie’s advice and included it in this initiative.

4 thoughts on “Microsoft embracing 'Open' – can a leopard change its spots?”

  1. I don’t write “M$” and I don’t think Microsoft are the borg but until they actually release/do something with this initiative I am not going to pay it anymore attention.

    They have made similar rumblings before and the results were disappointing (“Windows source code!” turned into “source for key select customers who pay lots of money for it” type thing.)

    Until I see Windows API documentation or Internet Explorer standards support out in the open, to the public, it is not worth paying attention to. I hope it happens but… we’ll see what is actually delivered.

  2. This is a very interesting move by Microsoft. I know that developers have been calling for such actions for quite a while now, but how do you think this will effect competitors of these Microsoft programs as well as sales? Will everything remain the same or is this bad news for competitors?

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