Next week I will be on the road talking to editors, analysts, and leading thinkers in the industry around standards. Microsoft has a history of looking at standards through the exclusive filter of its products. In many ways this silo-ed approach has been effective on a product-by-product basis, but has not served us as well looking across all standards engagements.

There is no one kind of standard, nor one kind of standard setting organization. Industry-driven partnerships and special interest groups such as Univeral Plug and Play (UPnP) are very different from industry consortia (OASIS, W3C). More formal still are the national organizations such as (ANSI), and of course the most formalized of all are the "umbrella" orgs of ISO, IEC, and ITU. People refer to the work products of these groups (specifications - essentially documents that describe a technology) as "standards," yet each body has its own twist on submission process, membership, voting rights, working group participation, intellectual property policies...the list goes on.

Microsoft participates in >450 standards bodies and working groups year after year. Depending on the product group we are more deeply involved in standards than in others. Our networking, media, hardware, mobile devices, server applications...all have teams focused on standards engagements. We support thousands of standards throughout our products.

Yet, our primary focus is on building unique value in the products. So, the question becomes one of the role of standards. How narrow should their focus be? Where are the lines to be drawn on required elements, optional functions, and outright unique creations beyond the specification? Customers do not want vanilla software. They want solutions to their problems and they want systems to be able to communicate effectively. It may be that effective translation is more important that uniform functionality.

So, as I head out on the road I want to keep my ears open for input as to how you think we should be doing things in the standards arena. Feel free to post comments here - I will most certainly be taking careful notes this week.