Microsofts Interoperability Push

Microsoft is on an Interoperability push. This campaign has been described by the New York Times as ” Microsoft’s latest effort to move from being a company that insists on the advantages of its own products to one that can adapt when customers use other companies’ goods.” The Times then went on to cite 3 major drivers for this interoperability push:
1)The European commissions recent antitrust actions found Microsoft wanting on interoperability and being forthright with its partners, vendors and customers;
2)large organizations are telling Microsoft that interoperability is as important to them as reliability and security – so get on board;
3)security and authentication across OS and application platforms has reached crisis proportions – like Iraq, a fix is needed now.
But I would see three additional reasons for this push:
4)this is a due diligence and compliance exercise. Microsoft is under court scrutiny for anti-competitive practices in the US, Europe, Japan among major jurisdictions. Just to meet their obligations steps towards interoperability have to be taken;
5)this is Windows dressing. Microsoft knows it needs to disguise its blatantly anti-competitive practices like opposing ODF for its own XML storage format and only relenting with a still unspecified schedule and degree of compliance with ODF. Remember this is the company that in 1997 promised to meet all W3C Web standards including HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and DOM – and then stopped all work on those standards for 5 critical years leaving people with proprietary extensions or nothing at all to work with. See this eWeek article for more examples of Microsoft ignoring, half-heartedly implementing or Machiavellian manipulating Open and general industry standards.
6)this is a Flak catcher. In the next few months Microsoft will be unleashing a blitz of standards defying and/or demanding (“take it or leave, but this is the way standards must read”) proposals and tactics. These will be in the areas of Linux patents, licensing and interoperability; collaboration and messaging frameworks; AJAX, XML and Web Services; GUI frameworks; and data storage and persistence APIs/methodologies among others.
So now Redmond can either say “lets take this up at the Interop Vendor Alliance” which will force vendors to accede to a group a)dominated by Redmond and embracing pseudo-standards which may not have broad industry acceptance; or they can say “see, we tried but the industry is not moving fast enough so we have to go it alone and aw shucks, set the standards.

If we look at at who is in the Interop Alliance it is a remarkable number of companies that have received large sums of money from Microsoft or are or were petitioning for co-operative favors from Redmond. If Adobe or IBM or Sybase or Oracle were in the Allliance it would have pull. Look at who is leading the Alliance. Now Bob Muglia, who is VP of Interoperability and spearheading co-operative thrusts, is not only a nice guy but also has handled some of Microsofts own wicked internal problems. But Bob faces the equivalent of the voters calls for bipartisanship from the Congress and a President who has been beating the newly empowered Democrats over the head with a baseball bat of politcal muckraking right up to and including November 7th, the day of the recent election.

In a similar fashion, the Microsoft Executive Suite has been pummeling Open Source, Linux and standards calling them worse epithets than cut-and-run liberals. Even more damaging, Microsoft is built on an ever more tightly coupled monoculture of Windows pseudo-superiority. What do we mean by pseudo-superiority ? -> well that is the claim that Windows everywhere is the most reliable, secure, available, easiest to use and best TCO or price/performance operating system for both desktop and server. And in defiance of the reality that might suggest otherwise, Microsoft has its infamous, Wormtongue website, Get the Facts. And if Microsoft cant make it “run best in Windows”, then Redmond will resort to beating its competitors by making sure their products do not run best in Windows. For just two examples, look at the recent flap over the Vista security API and kernel access that Microsoft is having with its former security partners; and the whole history of poisoning the Java well continues to this day with Microsoft still hawking proprietary “Java” J++ and J#. And to make matters worse if Microsoft does not get its way in setting standards, it is more than prepared to stick with its own proprietary extensions or simple defiant non-compliance, non-support. Look no further than IE7 being still remiss on W3C and ECMA JavaScript HTML, CSS, and DOM web standards while refusing to forgo its own proprietary extensions.

In sum, as Interoperability Czar at Microsoft, Bob Muglia has well nigh Mission Improbable if not Impossible. How can he hope to instill the elements of fairness, win-win, and trust in an organization that prides itself on being just this side of devious. But we know where nice guys finish – and especially in the Machiavellian Microsoft Executive Suite.

(c)JBSurveyer 2006