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Cross-country Code
Wired desktop No. 790

By Wilson Ng
First Posted 18:37:00 02/28/2008

Filed Under: Hardware, Technology (general)

IN THE last few days, a lot of things happened on the technology front. Microsoft first announced that its set of developer tools, from Visual Studio to Web Expression, would be available for free to students. Then in a major announcement done personally by its CEO Steve Ballmer, CTO Ray Ozzie and head of its Developer Division, Bob Muglia, it announced that it would radically change the way it works with developers and open source. This may be by far the biggest change in its official policy in working with the whole technology industry, especially in competing technologies. It also signals a new openness in the company?s licensing and business policies.

Microsoft will publish on its website documentation for all application programming interfaces (APIs) and communications protocols in its high-volume products that are used by other Microsoft products. Developers do not need to take a license or pay a royalty or other fee to access this information. This includes Microsoft?s commitment not to sue developers in using these protocols to develop non-commercial products.

The products include Windows Vista, the .NET Framework, Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007 and Office SharePoint Server 2007.

Moreover, the company commits to design new APIs for its Office 2007 that would enable other developers to more easily plug additional document formats and to enable users using these formats to use it as their default for saving documents.

This was a particular sticking point. As you may have noted, there are a lot of other products in the market that try to do the same as Microsoft Office, like Open Office and Star Office, but it did not quite catch on because its document format was never 100-percent compatible as that produced by Microsoft Office. Microsoft decided to open up a format called Office Open XML and submitted it to the ISO standards body, but it is meeting opposition. The irony seems to be that an earlier ISO standard, the Open Document Format has been approved, and it seemed that there is a strong movement by some vested interest sectors to ask Microsoft to adopt the Open Document format instead of it establishing its own standards. If this pushes through, it does seem that a technology in use in less than 10 percent of the desktops will be chosen to win over one that is already in 90 percent of the desktops, or a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Anyway, that contest may not be as important after all, because now, developers can just use the documentation and make that ODF plug and connect it to Microsoft Office.

The development was greeted with disbelief, and the usual conspiracy and paranoia abound. Is Microsoft really sincere? There used to be a saying that Coke would sooner publish its secret syrup formula, than for Microsoft to release its family jewels in such an open manner. Well, it did put over 30,000 pages of information available for free download, and once that is done, it is very difficult to take back.

I am sure many developers will have their hands full going over all the technical information that suddenly was made available to them. Some say that it is really a brilliant move, and will continue to cement Microsoft?s technology leadership to come. Some say that it is Microsoft?s admission that it really cannot continue to dictate to the market what it once used to do before. How it will all proceed will depend on how the market develops for it. Microsoft may continue to become richer, or it may lose market share, but in the end, even critics admit that it is now a softer, gentler, more open Microsoft than it was in yesteryears.

* * *

Wilson Ng keeps a blog of his articles in www.ngkhai.net/bizdrivenlife.

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