Microsoft Open Source Information Evening


I have just attended a Microsoft Open Source Information Evening. It was in some ways one of the stranger things that I have experienced in my computer career.

Firstly there was the location, it was in a function room in the CBD, it was convenient for public transport and had good service but seemed likely to be quite expensive. A MS employee said that they believed that some people wouldn’t want to enter an MS office – I can’t imagine why they think that they could convince people who refuse to enter the MS office of anything if they got them to attend. As there were only about 6 people who weren’t from MS it seems likely that they paid something in excess of $200 per head for each non-MS delegate (I can’t imagine two function rooms, two dedicated hotel employees manning the bar, and a supply of food for a larger audience costing less than $1200).

If they had spent $100 per head for us all to have dinner at a good restaurant then I think that the result would have been better. They might want to consider running targeted meetings in future with a small number of people personally invited to dinner at a good restaurant. That said, the dinner of duck canapes and asian-style chicken noodles that they provided was pretty good.

I suggested that they should find other ways of promoting such events as the audience was obviously smaller than they desired. One suggestion that I made was that they create a blog about what MS in Australia is doing in relation to Linux and to offer the RSS feed URL to the people who run Planet Linux Australia. They were reluctant to accept that idea and stated that they don’t want to be seen to be forcing their presence where they are not wanted. That is a good approach (and a contrast to some activities of MS in the past). But I believe that it is misguided in terms of RSS feeds. When you create a blog you make the RSS feed available and then the people who run syndication services have the option of using it. The Linux community is on the side of open discussion, I don’t think that we have anything to fear from hearing what MS people have to say. While my opinion of MS has improved this evening, I still have no interest in using any of their software. Linux just works really well and satisfies all of my needs.

There were a bunch of smart MS people there, they seemed to really care about their work and want to improve things. Their pitch was about how Open Source software works on Windows, they showed demos of the installation process for a variety of PHP programs and showed Python code being used in a MS web environment. Most of the presentation time involved technologies developed outside of MS, while there was obviously a lot of MS code involved in getting Python, Ruby, PHP, etc working well the focus was mostly on the free software. They also mentioned some of their work in opening APIs so that free software programs can access Exchange servers (among other things). I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to the technology as I’m never going to use it. I was more interested in their approach which was positive and respectful and the general trend of what they are doing.

It seems that there is an increasing number of people within MS who realise that free software is not going away and that their customers demand that things work together.

They also didn’t display any of the arrogance for which MS is known. When one of the delegates predicted that MS would take a fall the way IBM did there was no argument about that possibility, instead there was a discussion about how MS software can be used with software from other sources to meet the current and future needs of customers.

The discussion of software patents was generally not very productive, I got the impression that they were not permitted to give anything that I would have considered to be a good answer to any of the questions. They did show examples of software that they have released with RAND terms for patents and other situations in which there would be no patent liabilities. But it seems that MS as a whole has no interest in getting any of the patent problems fixed. I can only hope that IBM, NEC, or one of the other big patent companies will give MS a demonstration of why software patents are bad.

Finally I was given a couple of 8GB USB sticks and a copy of MS Expression Studio 2. If anyone wants the unopened copy of Expression Studio they can make me an offer by email.

10 thoughts on “Microsoft Open Source Information Evening”

  1. Don Marti says:

    Question for this kind of event: what are the pricing and terms for standalone patent licenses for open source end users? (But someohow I don’t think the people they send to open source events get filled in on this.)

  2. etbe says:

    Don: That would be a good question, but the patent discussion stalled before we got to the point where such questions could be asked.

    The issue of the patents that Linux allegedly infringes was briefly mentioned without any resolution, and the TomTom case also got a brief content-free mention. Without resolving those issues the entire patent issue can’t be addressed properly.

  3. dave b says:

    interesting read. But really nothing new. Microsoft has been pursuing this approach and will continue too. That is, smart employees who like their toys (rework) but are happy to talk about the other software.

    My question for you is: Do you honestly believe that core microsoft people are turning towards open source as a job requirement of because they like it ?

  4. db says:

    All the current and ex-Microsofties I’ve met seem to be intelligent and reasonable people. They also are all developers and testers who have exactly zero say in the strategic, technical and legal decisions the company makes that upset me. Lots of good people can work at a lousy institution, and it doesn’t mean that the institution is going to change.

  5. AlphaG says:

    You have interestingly made it very somewhat more obvious on the MS game play.

    At the end of the day having third party software on a Windows machine still enables them to sell an OS, require Client Access Licenses (AD authentication), free tools to talk to Exchange requries both Exchange and a Client Access License therefore the the method of access is not relevant.

    Whilst it may be applauded that they are more willing to enable you to do more FOSS things, there is still a commercial reality to be included that does require license revenue. They might not get 100% of the cake but they will always get a slice, or quarter or more of you IT budget.

    I also agree curent and ex MS staff are intelligent and reasonable, look at me!

  6. etbe says:

    dave b: I believe that the MS people I spoke to like working with open source software. But they aren’t senior people. They did however quote one senior person in MS saying something positive about open source software and said that their effort has some high level support. Doing things like paying for Jeff and Pia Waugh to go to the MS HQ requires approval at high levels.

    db: I had MS people treat me as a potential customer or business partner! That is a dramatic change, it’s something that I have never experienced before. The previous attitude I have got from dealings with MS was “we’re more important than you, we will do what we want and sell to your manager, Windows will be bundled on all computers that you want to buy, your opinion doesn’t matter”.

    AlphaG: I agree that their current approach makes good business sense. Being nice to customers, potential customers, and influential people (which means me in this context) is always a good business strategy. It’s nice that MS realise this and are now acting in the best interests of their stock holders.

    There is ongoing talk about whether MS should be split due to anti-trust issues. A split is opposed by executives and directors who don’t want to lose their status as rulers of a big corporation. It should be supported by general share-holders who want an increase in the value of their investment.

  7. AlphaG says:

    I am surprised they are stil ltalking about this. The DOJ case 5 years back has this threat but I thought that was all settled and out of the way.

    Though I probably will flamed for this, I am always interested in a Free Market/Capitalistic environment where success is measured in market share how any company can be too successful, no matter how they achieved it.

  8. etbe says:

    AlphaG: The anti-trust issue is not about being too successful, but by being successful through anti-competitive methods. Anti-trust law is about forcing fair competition when it doesn’t suit the monopolist.

  9. AlphaG says:

    You have to remember MS wasn’t a monopolist at the beginning it was a smaller competitor to many companies like Novell, Oracle, Sun and IBM who were much larger that they were, my point was through free market and capitalism (creative marketing) and just like other “big companies” were to successful.

    You have to be competative against your market foes to grow to a size where anit-competative methods can possibly work

  10. etbe says:

    AlphaG: As far as I am aware MS was not a competitor to IBM until the falling out after OS/2 1.2 was released (when MS decided to do Windows NT and IBM did OS/2 2.x). MS got it’s real start by making a deal with IBM to supply DOS – something that was helped by Bill’s parents. IBM could have prevented MS from becoming powerful by simply licensing an OS from another company.

    When Novell was at it’s peak in about 1990 I believe that it was a lot smaller than MS (but I haven’t searched for market cap data).

    From the first release of MS-DOS Microsoft aimed to use anti-competitive methods to gain market share.

    Anti-competitive methods work at all sizes of the market. Look at “independent” petrol stations that offer the same prices within a fraction of a cent. Look at bars that have drink prices that differ by 10 cents a glass (EG bar A is 10 cents cheaper and bar B is slightly cleaner so they divide the market).

    The most recent anti-competitive action that has been in the Australian news recently is two paper companies conspiring to fix prices for cardboard boxes. It’s hardly on the scale of MS.

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