Double-plus open Microsoft

Earlier today Microsoft announced with great fanfare the start of a more open attitude. They have defined a set of principles around interoperability, open connections, standards and data portability. And they'll be publishing detailed specs on the company's APIs, protocols and file formats to provide greater transparency and support for industry standards and open source. This is good news. If Microsoft claimed

Earlier today Microsoft announced with great fanfare the start of a more open attitude. They have defined a set of principles around interoperability, open connections, standards and data portability. And they'll be publishing detailed specs on the company's APIs, protocols and file formats to provide greater transparency and support for industry standards and open source. This is good news. If Microsoft claimed to be open before, I guess they are now even more so. (You could say, they are double-plus open.)

Microsoft will be releasing 30,000 pages of API and protocol documentation for Windows, Office, Exchange Server, SharePoint and SQL Server. Developers will have the ability to create products that interact closely with all of Microsoft's high volume products using these previously proprietary protocols, in effect tearing down at least some of the proprietary barriers that gave Microsoft it's monopoly position in certain markets. Microsoft also says it won't sue open source developers for development or "non-commercial" distribution of implementations of its protocols. Microsoft is being clear that companies that want to commercially distribute implementations of their protocols still require a patent license.

Most of the reaction to the announcement has been positive, with many in the industry applauding Microsoft's openness. Of course, there's still plenty of skepticism. Perhaps the openness will improve Microsoft's standing with open source developers.

The more cynical reader might wonder where Microsoft's new found openness is coming from. While it's not until the last paragraph of the press release, Microsoft admits that:

"The interoperability principles and actions announced today reflect the changed legal landscape for Microsoft and the IT industry. They are an important step forward for the company in its ongoing efforts to fulfill the responsibilities and obligations outlined in the September 2007 judgement of the European Court of First Instance."

Well, even if it was legislated, it's still good for the industry. And its good for Microsoft customers. And ultimately, it's probably good for Microsoft to be more open. If Microsoft wants to attract the next generation of developers and users, they should take the hint: Open works.

Meanwhile, the EU, which has two new antitrust investigations launched against Microsoft in the last month, has a more guarded reaction to Microsoft's openness:

"This announcement does not relate to the question of whether or not Microsoft has been complying with EU antitrust rules in this area in the past."

What do you think? Does Microsoft have the will to provide true interoperability? Will they take concrete steps to work more closely with the open source community? Is this the start of new thinking under the leadership of Bill Hilf, Ray Ozzie and Sam Ramji?

Or will we look back and say

"It was a bright and cold day... and the clocks were striking thirteen..."

Me, I'm optimistic...

But lets judge Microsoft by their actions, not their words.

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