Is Microsoft Sincere About Being 'Open'? Yes and Maybe No

Rob Enderle

Microsoft is in the midst of the biggest change it has undergone since it became a multi-national company, and I've been relatively close to this company or covered it competitively through much of its life.


What you are seeing is largely the impact of a staffing change that has occurred inside Microsoft since the early days of this decade.


Increasingly, people have been acquired or hired who either come with an open source background or have been customers and understand the unmet needs of having Microsoft be more transparent and easier to work with.


However, a company's personality can change dramatically based on who is actually in power at any given time. Right now, it appears that those who have these new beliefs have moved into decision-making authority, but the transition isn't complete and could be derailed if the benefits of this new "openness" aren't realized.


Think about it this way: When people who sincerely intend to lose weight get the proper help and motivation, they will be successful. However, if they find the benefits of being thin don't materialize, they are likely to revert. A a company can have a similar path, depending on the circumstances.


Helping Microsoft Get It Right


There are two ways to deal with change in people or companies. One is to deny the change is meaningful. Using the diet analogy, constantly reminding the person that diets fail, not recognizing and encouraging them by talking about progress, and castigating them for every slip will probably help ensure that the diet won't take. On the other hand, providing encouragement, praising them for positive progress, and accepting that occasional slips will happen will go a long way towards ensuring success.


With a company, the same is true. Clearly, Microsoft has competitors who recognize this change as a very real threat and will seek to make sure it fails.


Also, there are a lot of us that simply don't believe a company or a person can change. We may have good reasons to believe this, but when our actions actually cause the outcome we anticipate, but don't really want, the word "stupid" comes to mind. And like you, while I've done some incredibly stupid things, I strive very hard not to do more of them.


This suggests that, unless we are competitors and clearly are financially motivated to ensure Microsoft's failure, we should encourage this change and suggest ways Microsoft could change further. This isn't the same as disparaging the progress it has made by constantly criticizing that it isn't enough, which it probably isn't, but seeing this as a road to a destination we actually want and working to make sure Microsoft continues to make progress on it.


Wrapping Up: Microsoft's Positive Changes Depend on You


Companies are made up of people, and people respond to encouragement and threats. To make this move toward openness happen, both needed to be in place, and the European Commission actually played a critical role in getting the ball rolling. However, it could also derail the effort by doing the typical politician thing and, perceiving weakness, increasing pressure.


This would likely cause a shift in power and those that said this wouldn't work, and didn't want the change in the first place, would get the next vote. I don't think any of us want that to happen.


All I'm suggesting is that if you find the change beneficial, take a moment to tell a Microsoft executive thanks and be appreciative of the progress. That will do a lot to ensure the progress can, and will, continue. It is important to all of us that it does.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 28, 2008 9:11 AM Shadowfire Shadowfire  says:
Microsoft has never been interested in helping anyone but themselves. They are not sincere about anything but making money. The last thing they would ever think of is helping Open Source or Linux. They are only interested in stealing or buying out it's Open Sources best code or technologies... If Microsoft was sincere about helping Open Source they would fix issues and allow flawless integration with other software. There would be true transparency cross platforms and office suites.. and the transparencey between programs - even on differnet OS's...So please stop with the FUD even if Microsoft is paying you to kiss butt. Reply

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