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Top 10 Microsoft Stories Of 2008

Having bid farewell to Bill Gates, Microsoft tempered its appetite for Yahoo, tweaked Vista, leapt into cloud computing, allowed a peek at Windows 7, and warmed up to open source.
8. Baby Steps With Open Source And Open Standards

Taking a different tack from just a year earlier when it claimed patent infringement by open source software, Microsoft began taking hesitant, tentative baby steps (with numerous setbacks, of course) toward an embrace of open source and open standards in 2008. "If innovative work is going to happen in the open source community, I want it to happen on our platforms," Ballmer told InformationWeek this year. Though likely pushed to do so by outside forces, Microsoft even made a big pledge in February to look for more places where it could support open source and open standards, and publish more documentation of its protocols.

One of the big battles of the year was over Microsoft's document file formats. Despite allegations that it corrupted the voting process with improper pressure and that Microsoft was looking to muddy the document standards waters, Microsoft saw its Office Open XML file format ratified by the International Organization for Standardization, launched an open source project to translate Office binaries into Open XML, and pledged to support the competing Open Document Format standard in Office 2007 Service Pack 2 due out next year. In other open standards news, many of Microsoft's online services released or announced this year make heavy use of web standards.

As for open source itself, Microsoft seems to be coming around to the view that it wants open source software to run on Windows and that it's time to toy with open source itself. Microsoft execs courted open source developers several times throughout the year, calling for cordiality. Microsoft continued making millions off Novell Linux, and invested in its development, despite disagreement within Novell about the deal. It looked to support development of open source third-party components for Office, released an open source installer and blogging platform, is extending its management software to support Linux and even became an official sponsor of the Apache Software Foundation.

Not that Microsoft didn't sometimes live up to its old ways of doing things out of competitive instinct. As recently as December, the company posted an interview with a company that claimed to save money with Microsoft versus open source, as if the choices were all or none. It also kept vague boilerplate risk language regarding open source in Securities and Exchange Commission filings that concerned some observers. Use of Microsoft's newly released protocol documentation also comes with a fee for anyone building commercial software, a fact criticized by some. Microsoft still has a long way to go convincing people that it is becoming more open, but it arguably took several plodding steps in the right direction in 2008.

9. Internet Explorer's Overhaul

Internet Explorer, Microsoft's market-dominant Web browser, has been called a lot of things, but it hasn't carried the mantle of openness and innovation in the last few years as Mozilla's Firefox rose like a rocket. Now, with the impending release of Internet Explorer 8, Microsoft hopes to shake things up a bit and staunch the bleeding.

Microsoft had already made some people a bit happier with Internet Explorer 7, the first major overhaul of the browser since the release of the now-maligned Internet Explorer 6 way back in 2001. With an innovative competitor like Mozilla gaining and another (Google) looming, however, Microsoft needed to make more sweeping changes. After complaints from customers that it was being too coy, the company finally started talking about the browser as the year began.

The new browser has stronger compliance with web standards, which overjoys Web developers but could break many old corporate Web apps or sub-standard Web sites, so Microsoft put in what it calls "compatibility mode" to handle sub-standard sites. It's also got improved security, usability and manageability, and is said to be more IT-friendly.

10. The SharePoint Phenomenon

SharePoint, Microsoft's content management, collaboration and Web publishing platform, continued its meteoric rise in 2008, becoming a $1 billion product. Microsoft dropped few hints about where it would go next with the software, but did release a software-as-a-service version and bought search technology to gird what's already in SharePoint.

Third-party software vendors rushed to support, govern, integrate with and extend SharePoint this year, while more and more customers (Wachovia, Monsanto, Coca-Cola Enterprises, among others ) came out of the woodwork to talk about their experiences. Meanwhile, competitors large and small angled to compete.

SharePoint is surely all the rage, but it may yet be a victim of its own success. Often, companies rush to install it without asking if it's really the right thing for them. With collaboration and content management as key initiatives for a while to come, though, many companies will continue finding room for more SharePoint.