Bye-bye Ballmer, hello open source? Microsoft's upcoming options

Despite early 'cancer' slur, Steve Ballmer has been investing in open source. Could his departure open doors at Microsoft?

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Consider some of the data points:

  • Microsoft Open Technologies is now incorporated as a wholly owned but legally distinct subsidiary. At present, it offers little more than a liability firewall for the corporation, isolating Microsoft from patent and licensing risk, but it is strongly staffed and has high potential.
  • After a rocky start as the window dressing for Microsoft's CodePlex forge, the now-renamed Outercurve Foundation is gathering momentum and offers a fine vehicle for difference-making projects once it has gained the trust of sufficient developers. With the move of Jim Jagielski from Apache to CodePlex (closely followed by the appointment of Microsoft Open Technologies staffer Ross Gardler as president of Apache), there's potential for bridges to be built through the legacy of this organization.
  • Much of the stasis for open source at the company was the result of Microsoft's hard-baked executive portfolio. But as Sean Michael Kerner notes, a big slice of executive leadership has left Microsoft in recent years, including Ozzie, Elop, Muglia, and Sinofsky:
    In the past three years, the executives who ran the Windows, Server and Business divisions have left. Both Muglia and Sinofsky worked at Microsoft for decades shaping the strategy and culture that enabled the company to dominate in the desktop and server arenas. Both are gone, and now soon so is Ballmer.
    A majority of that executive bench has quit (or been helped to quit) in the last few years as Microsoft's board has presumably delivered ultimatum after ultimatum to Ballmer. Unwittingly, he has cleared out a lot of the deadwood blocking the stream.

Time for a revolution?

The potential is there. With the right choice of CEO and with all the dyed-in-the-wool naysayers out of the company, Microsoft's many open source experts -- both technical and business -- could radically transform the company. Despite his famous Monkey Boy performance, Ballmer systematically alienated the developer category that now controls enterprise software development. As Matt Asay pointed out:

Instead of tapping into the rising developer class, Ballmer has spent the past 13 years living within this insular cocoon of CIO feedback and healthy profit margins.

New leadership could target open source technologies, as well as the developers who create and deploy them. Will it happen? Not if the purported short list is right. But with the right choice, this could be the moment for Microsoft to break out of the trap its past success created and finally embrace open source in a way that wins in the market. You heard it here first.

This article, "Bye-bye Ballmer, hello open source? Microsoft's upcoming options," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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