Let Actions Speak for Microsoft

Microsoft has just reported $40 billion in revenues and over $16B in earnings yet it is out to do what it has had to do many times over – change its image on a major Enterprise computing issue. This time it is interoperability. But in fact, over the past 10 years Redmond has consistently had to play catch up on major IT performance measures: scalability, reliability, security, availability. And now it is the turn for interoperability.

Yes, once again we are treated to the spectacle of Microsoft almost discovering for the first time one more aspect of Enterprise caliber performance . It is positively embarrassing to see Redmond executives apparently recognizing, like an ingenue, that yes indeed interoperability is an important factor in IT success. “We suspected, we knew it was important; however now its got our full attention.”

But, no, in the meantime, this does not mean that Microsoft has delivered on its prior promises to achieve world class performance on availability, reliability, security and scalability. For example, in the security area we have raised some fundamental questions about prior to .NET commitments to security and continuing negligence and backsliding since then (see our assessment here). Likewise in the scalability arena, Microsoft is going substantially outside Globus and other Grid Computing standards in developing its own, proprietary BigTop grid computing initiative. So now Microsoft is “embracing interoperability” but strictly on its own terms.

Microsoft and Interoperability: Do They Really Get It ?

This is the title of the first and one of the Microsoft recommended webcasts on the Microsoft Interoperability website. Microsoft has pulled out all the stops on this website including having 20 webcasts available, giving away some free Tablet PCs and a guaranteed book from a selection of five on system architecting and design if you watch at least three webcasts. So you see, Microsoft is serious about Interoperability.

Or is it ? Judging by that first webcast on Microsoft and Interoperability: Do they Really Get It ? one can safely say NO. For example, in this pivotal opening presentation were there any top Microsoft Executives on board and at least being quoted as to why they felt interoperability was important? – NO. Did the webcast address the issue of what is different between interoperability in the past and now going forward? – NO. Did the presentation address the issue of why Microsoft has taken and continues to take a distinctly proprietary approach to software development ? – NO. Did the webcast try to explain some of anti-interoperability actions of Microsoft in the past ? – NO.

This latter point is quite important in the fast moving IT world because there is a tendency to forget any technology more than 5 years old – and the history behind it. But of course as Santayana said, we ignore history at the peril of repeating it (and all of our mistakes). So for convenience here is a small list of questions on anti-interoperability that Microsoft executives should be held accountable for:
1)Why did they seek to proprietize Java and not go through Sun and any sort of Java Community Process in formation at that time ? Why do they continue to poison the well of Java runtimes, even after “rapprochement” with Sun, by distributing a hopelessly obsolete version of the JVM on Windows and therefore cutting of an avenue for great interoperability between Windows and other systems ?
2)Why did Microsoft morally and financially support the ill-advised attack on Linux by SCO, absolutely poisoning the climate, instead of building interoperability bridges to Linux and Unix that the company now avows it wants to do ?
3)Why has Microsoft suspended for the past four years all functional updates to Internet Explorer including long promised upgrades to full W3C, ECMA and other Web standards thus adding billions of man-hours per year to all web developers that have to correct/adjust for both Microsoft omissions and proprietary extensions ?
4)Why has Microsoft discontinued all use of stick to interoperability and open standards switches ? Such switches when toggled on guarantee in Visual Studio and other Microsoft developer tools that any code generated by MS or added by the developer will adhere to ECMA, ISO, W3C and other open interoperability standards (a scan is required in the latter case). Microsoft has supported such capabilities in the past. And such vendors as Adobe, CA, Macromedia, and others currently support such interoperability switches in major products right now.
5)Why has Microsoft embarked on a major campaign to increase its software patents, always an enemy of interoperability, especially in the face of W3C and other standards organizations calling for patent free zones and also in the light of IBM, Sun and others granting sizable chunks of patents to the Open Source community ?
6)Why has Microsoft failed to support in its development tools directly major standards that have either broad industry/market acceptance and/or recognized IT standards organizations approval ? The list is very long and includes: CORBA, DCE, J2EE, JPEG2000, OpenDoc, OpenGL, PDF, SVG, SMIL, SWF, etc, etc.
7)Why is programming interoperability strictly forbidden on Windows? None of the Microsoft programming languages are portable to other platforms in their full entirety- not VC++, not VB.NET and all its Visual Basic predecessors, not VBA, not JScript, not C# despite the efforts of the Mono group, not Visual Foxpro, not VBScript, not WSH etc. And why are the three most popular cross platform programming languages: either ignored (PHP) or subject to debilitating restrictions by Microsoft (JavaScript is locked in IE well below standards, Java is held to an obsolete JVM on Windows ) ?
Now it is important to get these and other questions on Microsofts support for interoperability answered precisely because interoperability is based to a great extent on timely and continued support for open standards. We would like to emphasize the “timely and continued” part of that support because Microsoft executives have proved to be “good weather” supporters of standards and interoperability. One has to look no further than the Web interoperability and standards adherence promised in Internet Explorer and still not forthcoming five years later. Or the off and on again support for full SQL standards. Now this is crucial, because as we shall see below Microsoft is really dependent on third parties for most of its “interoperability” message. And if there is one immutable fact, Microsoft is infamous for pulling the plug on its software partners in arbitrary ways (think IBM and OS/2, Sybase and SQL Server, Sun and Java, Sendo and SmartPhones, etc ,etc).

The Microsoft Interoperability Message

So despite its provocative title, the lead-off webcast turns out to be an Infomercial about Microsofts interoperability efforts. And the Infomercial tells us about two major trends in Redmonds support for interoperability:
>Works with What You Have
…Blithely cites support for W3C standards and XML
…Touts two gateway products, Host Integration Server and BizTalk which have limited interop
…Admits the bulk of interoperability comes through 3rd party software and vendors
>Interoperable by Design
…XML provide the data interoperability framework for information workers
…XML-based Web Services worked out in cooperation with BEA, IBM, Oracle and Sun
And as Porky Pig would say – “Thats All Folks !!!”
So you can imagine 19 more webcasts on this foundation leaves a lot of technical evangelism and infomercials for .NET, Office and Windows products and Services and how they relate to XML and Web Services.

So the bottom line is full steam ahead for Microsoft in creating its gated IT community experience we have called the Gates of Longhorn. The Gates of Longhorn only allows entry by data interoperability – no programming interoperability allowed. Web Services you say offers programming interoperability ? Thats like making a delivery to the second floor by walking to the top of a 20 story building walking across the hall and descending 19 floors to make the drop off. Web Services are essentially macro orchestration tools; not operational implementors. XML offers programming through XPath, Xquery, and XSLT you say. Well first Microsoft has taken pass on XSLT2 and XPath2 and is even rumbling about XQuery not meetings its requirements. Microsoft is saying for an XML GUI resources/events/actions description language, it is Redmonds own XAML or the highway – Microsoft will accept nothing less. Microsoft is also taking out a slew of patents on XML against the express wishes of W3C. Now thats what I call Anti-Interoperability. Ohhh and XPath and XSLT are declarative programming languages. Lets face the music – Microsoft simply does not allow any major procedural programming language on Windows that is not proprietary. Remember – everything must run best on Windows. This latter objective means that all of Office Longhorn, all of the new Microsoft ERP apps, all of the .NET Servers, and Windows LongHorn are sure to be tightly coupled together such that Microsoft software runs best in Longhorn and everything else runs second best.

Now this conclusion is derived only from the lead off overview webcast and a fairly long history of Microsoft practices and declarations in the past. And I have 19 other Interoperable webcasts to wade through. But I promise you, if there is any news in those 19 other webcasts that would lead me to revise the assessment presented so far, I will be the first to let you know. Meanwhile, let Microsofts actions in the past and ongoing right now speak louder than any 20 webcast infomercials words.

(c) JBSurveyer 2005