“No one said I couldn’t write about companies that use Linux, but it was implied in how they asked the question. I say hogwash. Go back to my corporate weblogger manifesto. If a competitor is doing something interesting, you might as well talk about it. My readers are smart. Smarter than I am, certainly. They all know how to use Google and Yahoo and MSN. Some even know how to use all three together.” — Robert Scoble
As a person with a foot firmly in both camps (I’ve been hacking on Unices of various forms since year 11 in 1994, but I write commercial Windows code for one of the most successful ISVs in Australia) I can see what he’s trying to say. Having recently been in Seattle, it was interesting to note how insulated the Microsoft people are: they are all colocated on a couple of campuses; they have their own hotel near the campus I was on; their own restaurants for during lunch; their own bus system (including transit center); their own store; their own museum; the list goes on. I imagine it would be possible as a Microsoft employee to come close to never meeting someone who uses a competitors product. The only obvious exclusion to that is the various properties on the web that everyone uses — like Google.
That attitude hurts Microsoft. A lot. I’m coming to suspect that it’s why they’re suffering from this us vs them image as well. Let’s pick on a couple of examples to expand my point:
ADAM. ADAM is Active Directory, Application Mode. It’s an instance of Active Directory that stands alone, and doesn’t have a footprint on the network. Now, I can think of lots of places where an LDAP like database of user accounts and attributes is useful, but I don’t have control of the network to install one. Surprisingly, people don’t like having to re-engineer their entire enterprise just because they bought another enterprise product. It makes the infrastructure guys grumpy. As an ex-infrastructure guy, I can sympathize with that standpoint. Anyways, so ADAM would let me write code which does the LDAP thing, and still work on a network which doesn’t do LDAP. Those people could just run ADAM on the local box which my application is using. When told about the new version of ADAM recently at an Ascend love-in, I started thinking about how we could use this thing all over the place.
And then we stopped thinking about it, and abandoned all of those plans. Why? Well, ADAM requires a SQL server instance to run. Those same customers who don’t like re-engineering their world also don’t like running another database. Lots of them are Oracle or DB2 shops, and don’t have any SQL server skills. moreover, they don’t want those skills as they’re not relevant to the rest of their environment.
Microsoft’s history as a poor corporate citizen: it’s nice that people think that business is war. I’m happy for them. However, business is really about value to the customer. Without customers, we’re all hobos in the street. When Microsoft admitted that they had behaved in a manner which breaches anti-trust law earlier this week they should have been hi-lighting to themselves that acting in a manner which isn’t aligned with what is best for the customer hurts in the long run. Sure, Microsoft made way more than half a billion from that behavior, but it’s also a reputational thing. This linux thing wouldn’t be so popular if people weren’t so upset with Microsoft in general.
I think the turning point was about the time of the South Park movie. If a popular movie can make a joke about executing Bill Gates, and expect the world to understand, then you’d have to think that perhaps you have a PR problem. Lots of the people I know who use Linux and open source do so because of a lack of trust of Microsoft.
The corporate blogging policy of Microsoft is certainly helping with that trust restoration. At least things seem a little more open now (more on that in a second). They need to go further though. perhaps some sort of 12 step program — the first step is to publically admit that you’ve made mistakes in the past. Not individually — at a corporate level.
File formats: I live in the ACT, which is the Australian equivalent of the District of Columbia (almost exactly). There the local government passed an open source preference law for government acquired software a year or so ago. I went to a couple of the public meetings about this law, and the logic behind the decision wasn’t about hating Microsoft. It was much more about wanting to be able to read their own files in a few years, if not 200 years. Think about it. Governments are in the business of producing data. Just data. Another perhaps I should include roads and schools there as well. Anyways, you get the idea. They’re really worried about the file format bit rot that happens at the moment. How is it acceptable to create millions of Word documents, and not even know if you’ll be able to open them reliably in 20 years? Worse than that, the format isn’t documented (unlike PDF for instance), so they can’t even write their own data extraction tool in 20 years. 20 years is a short time. Imagine the legal history of the UK for instance — they refer to documents which are hundreds of years old.
Stop changing the damn format just to stop open competition. How about competing on your merits for a bit? Competing on any other basis is merely an admission that you don’t think that those other merits exist. They do — trust them. People are actually capable of making a rational purchasing decision for themselves.
My final example…
(I’ll never be a baptist minister — I made four points, not three)
Coding for Windows is harder than for the competition: huh? Well, having done a lot of both, it’s a lot more work coding for Windows. Even with tools like C# and .NET. Why? Well, Microsoft doesn’t document the things they didn’t expect you to do (probably because they didn’t realize that you would want to do them). With open source I can always go and read the code to work out what is happening under the hood. Additionally, MSDN is horrible to search. I use Google in preference, and have for some time (about 4 years?!?). Having hundreds of random hackers blog about things is good, but it doesn’t add value to MSDN, I still need Google to search all of that. What happens when I am coding off line, on a plane or something?
My brain is now empty.