Today we announced the formation of a new customer council focused on interoperability (how to make technologies work better together). I'm sure you've noticed over time that Microsoft has made a strong commitment to work towards better interoperability, and this is a big step forward in achieving that goal. I personally have focused on interoperability issues for about the past 6 years or so in working on extensible technologies like the object model and both the HTML and XML file formats. It's something I've always viewed as a key piece of our product design, and it's exciting to see more momentum building around this.

Pulling a quote from the press release:

"The council, hosted by Muglia, will meet twice a year in Redmond, Wash. The council will have direct contact with Microsoft executives and product teams so it can focus on interoperability issues that are of greatest importance to customers, including connectivity, application integration and data exchange. Council members will include chief information officers (CIOs), chief technology officers (CTOs) and architects from leading corporations and governments. Representatives from Société Générale, LexisNexis, Kohl's Department Stores, Denmark's Ministry of Finance, Spain's Generalitat de Catalunya and Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI), and the states of Wisconsin and Delaware have joined as founding members."

As I said, we’ve been committed to the idea of "interoperability by design" for quite some time now, but the actual "interoperable by design" initiative was kicked off by Bill Gates last winter (Feb '05). We've heard numerous times from our customers that interoperability is a "key IT priority." When we design our products we look at how they will interact with a large selection of other products and with a wide variety of hardware. We have very large testing matrices in place to help ensure they work. This new customer council will help us in huge ways though as they will be able to identify some real life issues that we hadn't yet thought of (or prioritized high enough). As we identify new issues we can then look to solving those as well.

You see a lot of folks talk about interoperability, but often they just don't mean the same thing. From our perspective it's something we want to build directly into the products so that it just works. Another approach that companies have taken is to talk about it from the perspective of building specific "projects" where consulting is done (for a fee of course <g/>) to wire together a number of separate bits. I've also seen that often companies will talk about interoperability when it comes to areas that they aren't really competitive in, but want to be. This often leads them to push towards less functional and innovative technologies in an attempt to level the playing field. This is a far different approach from what we are talking about, and I want to make sure there isn't any confusion. There were a couple key talking points around this announcement that I really liked, and that is that we're producing "people-ready" and "value-returning" interop solutions and this new council will help us to be even more successful in doing that.

The work we're doing in Ecma is obviously a great example of the "interoperable by design" concept. We've taken a product where one of the key complaints was that the file format was not documented, and not only moved to use open technologies (ZIP and XML), but we're working with a bunch of other companies (including some competitors) to make it a fully documented international standard.

If you want to learn more about interoperability at Microsoft, you should check out the interoperability site: http://www.microsoft.com/interoperability

-Brian