Microsoft's Tech Summit: Redmond Still Trying To 'Get' Open Source Software - InformationWeek

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4/3/2007
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Microsoft's Tech Summit: Redmond Still Trying To 'Get' Open Source Software

Microsoft's love/hate relationship with the Mac, its uncertainty over the proper place for open-source software, and the surprisingly self-critical nature of the company's coders were on display at its recent Technology Summit.

It isn't often that I get to spend several days listening to the people that are creating the software products at Microsoft. In the past, when I have been to Redmond it was usually on a press junket with colleagues from mainstream IT and business media, listening to spin doctors and marcom folks who were trying to get "coverage."

Last week, I was in the company of people who write code, and have a deep knowledge of the tools, software, and applications, as part of the company's Technology Summit. I wanted to jot down some thoughts, what I learned, and what the role of Microsoft will be in the coming years for the evolution of the Web and open source.

Microsoft still has this love/hate relationship with the Mac. Some of the presenters deliberately brought Macs, including one who ran Vista under Parallels. Yet when someone asked if anyone had tested interoperability of Vista with Mac OS X, it was clear that this wasn't a focus. (And for those of us that have both, a continuing frustration.)

For Microsoft to succeed, the Mac has to move from being a poster child operating system, a necessary evil, and some annoying relative to be tolerated to an actual strategic direction and integral to the company's success. The people that have moved to Mac desktops are canaries in the coal mine. They aren't happy with Windows for very real reasons (blue screen and security sinkholes come to mind). It continues to be a platform that is used by many developers.

There is a growing emphasis on interoperability at Microsoft, and they are clearly spending a lot of resources on projects (such as Windows and other operating systems, new versions of Windows networking protocols, and new programming languages with older ones), but there is still room for improvement. You can never do too much interop testing. Interop is getting more attention, but still isn't infused into the core culture yet.

Microsoft is a company of coders, and they respond best to an audience full of coders, too. Coders are the heart and soul of what drives this place. They have always understood what developers do and think and eat and drink. Speaking of which, during one of the presentations, an Outlook reminder popped up on screen that listed as overdue the items "eat dinner" and "go home." That resonated amongst the geeks in attendance.

But let's face it -- in the past several years, developers have moved away from writing code for single-PC applications and Microsoft still doesn't quite get this whole Internet thing. "We didn't understand open source and didn't use the correct words back in 2005," said Bill Hilf, one of their head open source advocates.

During the meetings, the audience took them to task about lack of enthusiasm for various open source projects. I found it interesting that most -- not all, but most -- of the presenters still were viewing open source as competing with some Microsoft product offering. They need to realize that people are going to use both, and want not only choice but also the ability to freely code in both Microsoft and open source projects.

Don Box, one of the developer evangelists, semi-seriously said, "I humbly apologize on behalf of the 70,000 owner-operators of Microsoft for the statements our CEO makes to scare all the open source people." But there was an element of truth behind it.

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