A Kindler, Gentler Microsoft Won't Happen From Within - InformationWeek

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2/22/2008
11:40 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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A Kindler, Gentler Microsoft Won't Happen From Within

Microsoft's recent announcements about its new openness initiatives have been greeted with great skepticism.  They deserve to be, because Microsoft deserves to be changed for the better -- but it's only going to come from the outside, not the inside.

Microsoft's recent announcements about its new openness initiatives have been greeted with great skepticism.  They deserve to be, because Microsoft deserves to be changed for the better -- but it's only going to come from the outside, not the inside.

I don't believe Steve Ballmer for a second when he says that the recent change in strategy to open up documentation about Windows and Office was something it was taking on its own.  You can bet that this is only happening because of continual and unrelenting pressure from regulators, rivals, and, yes, customers to make this happen.  It's not so much a way for the company to better embrace openness and connectedness as it is a face-saving gesture, a way to send a signal that, gee shucks, its really not all that bad.

Truth be told, Microsoft can do great things when motivated to do so.  It's just that the main motivation on its end is to protect its turf and to lock customers into their way of doing things.  That's how it's consistently been, and it only has ever backed off from that stance in any respect after being hit in the face with it again and again.

It's been said, and with a straight face, that if Microsoft disappeared tomorrow the IT industry would be arguably no worse off for it and probably a good deal better.  That said, Microsoft is still profitable, and isn't planning on adopting a business model that would undermine that (read: open source).  There are plenty of people who are still willing to pay good money for Microsoft products, despite the lock-in (I confess I'm one such person myself; viz. MS Office), and as long as they continue to do so, Microsoft only has to pretend to play fair. 

This is the question as I see it: Should the beast be tamed?  Would it be worth the effort to make Microsoft reshape itself into a real force for good?  It certainly won't happen from the inside, if it does happen.  The only way to get Microsoft to do anything good for the industry as a whole -- or just to keep it from making things worse -- is to keep applying a steady and resolute pressure.  It's the only thing that seems to work.

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