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4/2/2009
07:14 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Microsoft: The Most Interoperable Company In The World?

Like the late comic Rodney Dangerfield, Microsoft doesn't get any respect. On Wednesday, at the Web 2.0 Expo, Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft's Business Division, tried to convince a skeptical Tim O'Reilly and an audience full of open standards sorts that Microsoft is, as he put it, "the most interoperable company in the world."

Like the late comic Rodney Dangerfield, Microsoft doesn't get any respect. On Wednesday, at the Web 2.0 Expo, Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft's Business Division, tried to convince a skeptical Tim O'Reilly and an audience full of open standards sorts that Microsoft is, as he put it, "the most interoperable company in the world."Elop looked out at the conference attendees in the audience and asked for a show of hands. "How many people would say Microsoft is the most interoperable company in the world?" he asked.

Not a single hand was raised.

Undaunted, Elop continued, "I would argue that's becoming true."

He then went on to cite Microsoft's Acts of Openness -- 40,000 pages of documentation that explains how to interoperate with the company's popular products, numerous APIs and SDKs that promote interoperability, letting Apple and Google connect to Exchange servers through their mobile devices, and ODF support in Office, for example.

He needn't have bothered. O'Reilly subsequently observed that lock-in doesn't have to come from software; it can come from the users. In other words, just by keeping its customers happy, or through inertia, Microsoft can keep control.

Whether Microsoft is actually the standard bearer for interoperability, I'll leave that to others to determine.

In a subsequent question, O'Reilly twisted the knife further. What will it take to make Microsoft cool among developers again, he asked.

Elop shot back, "I wouldn't say again."

The exchange was more congenial than it might seem -- this clearly isn't the first time Elop has confronted the negative image that Microsoft has in certain circles.

That may be why he came prepared. Joking that Microsoft is often likened to the malevolent Galactic Empire in Star Wars -- techies really do need to get a fresher cultural touchstone -- he presented O'Reilly with a shirt that said, "I am the empire."

That, rather than "I'm a PC," should've been the slogan of Microsoft's current marketing campaign.

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