I got into an interesting discussion in the comments on Dan Gillmor’s column about Microsoft’s behavior.  Dan concludes that “Microsoft won’t reform itself.”  Because I like my job and don’t like sitting in depositions, I opted to not comment on any of the legal issues, but to contrast with Dan’s list of negatives, I did point out what I thought were some positive changes in the way Microsoft interacts with partners. (Other commenters on the article took on Dan’s point directly, eg: “the Lindows business plan has been to provoke Microsoft […] so they don't need to demonstrate usefulness of the product”)

 

I wrote:

But surely you've seen some positive changes in the last few years as well, no? The Rotor shared source implementation of .NET (http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/Dndotnet/html/mssharsourcecli.asp)? The broader Shared Source initiative (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2004/mar04/03-15SSIOneMillionPR.asp)? The royalty-free license to the Office 2003 XML schemas (http://blogs.msdn.com/jmazner/archive/2004/02/23/78903.aspx)? The work with IBM, BEA and others to ensure interoperable web services implementations via WS-I (http://www.ws-i.org/)? The hundreds of Microsoft employees reaching out to the developer community via blogs (http://blogs.msdn.com/)? More frequent Visual Studio technology previews (http://weblogs.asp.net/jaybaz_ms/archive/2004/02/21/77796.aspx)?

 

In response, Ron Talbott said he’s seen no positive changes from MS, writing “The "changes" you've described have almost zero effect on the anti-competitive practices that are at the core of MS' business strategy” and concluded “You work for crooks, Jeremy”. Another commenter, Bobby, wrote “why are we supposed to applaud Microsoft's taking a step?”

 

I’m not the guy who sets Microsoft’s business strategy.  I’m not the guy who is in the meeting when all the execs discuss how to set business strategy.  I’m not even the guy who gets to see the notes from that meeting ;)  But from my perspective down in the trenches, as someone who’s spent most of the last 8 years building software for MS, the business strategy I see is “build good software that does what customers need, then sell it to them.”

 

Any meeting I’m in where product team folks are debating features, the discussion is always centered on what will be best for customers.  I’ve spent the last two years trying to make sure that the Longhorn platform offers the right set of functionality to developers.  Sometimes people make the wrong decision.  Sometimes they make a good decision, but it looks like a wrong decision.  But most of the time they make good decisions, and build a good product.  If they build a bad product that doesn’t satisfy customer needs, then no one uses it, and it either dies, or goes back to the drawing board for v2.

 

For a long time, none of the decision making process was exposed to the world outside of Redmond.  But now we have hundreds of employees writing about how and why we make these decisions every day.  And I think initiatives like Rotor, the Office schema licensing, and WSI show that we are increasingly making decisions to promote interoperability.  I don’t understand how, looking at these changes in the past few years, Ron sees them as indication that I work for crooks.

 

To Bobby’s point: I’m not asking you to applaud anything.  Just tell us “yes, this is good”, or “no, this is bad”.  We listen, and we adjust based on what our customers and partners tell us.  If the community tells us that WSI is a good thing, and you agree that interoperability with IBM and BEA is an admirable goal, then we’ll continue to work on that.  If you tell us that it’s a mistake and not meeting your needs, then we’ll adjust accordingly.  If you say nothing, we have no idea whether we’re meeting your needs or not.