Open Microsoft?

Microsoft has put forth a press release outlining its intentions to cooperate with the open source community to a far greater extent then they have in the past. That’s right; the Big Brother Monopoly Corporation is claiming they want to add more support for their open source competitors.

If we were to take Microsoft at its word, it would do a lot to explain their attempts to acquire Yahoo (a company with an intimate relationship to the open source community). There are a couple things I’d like to highlight in Microsoft’s statement:

Microsoft is providing a covenant not to sue open source developers for development or non-commercial distribution of implementations of these protocols. These developers will be able to use the documentation for free to develop products. Companies that engage in commercial distribution of these protocol implementations will be able to obtain a patent license from Microsoft, as will enterprises that obtain these implementations from a distributor that does not have such a patent license.

I could be misinterpreting this, but deep down, I simply don’t believe it. However, if we take Microsoft at its word, this could very well be the downfall of Windows’ dominance as the home desktop operating system. When linux programmers can utilize Microsoft’s own technology to legally port material to their own operating systems (rather than just through wine), and distribute those OSes freely… It really begins to look like Microsoft has realized that, with the rise of cloud computing, the specific operating system being run doesn’t matter as much anymore. When your needed applications can all be run in a web browser, it doesn’t matter what OS you’re running. That’s the anthropomorphic personification of Death coming for Windows, and Microsoft can see him coming, and might have decided to get out ahead of him to the point that it won’t matter.

Coupled with Microsoft’s attempt to buy Yahoo, we see a clear evolutionary path for the company: away from an OS based company, to an online based company, making its money through web apps and ads. We’ve seen Microsoft trying to emulate Google for a while now, and this could be the first major step to actually changing Microsoft as a company so they can really compete on Google’s level in Google’s playground.

Or, I could just be reading way too much into this.

Enhancing Office 2007 to provide greater flexibility of document formats. To promote user choice among document formats, Microsoft will design new APIs for the Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications in Office 2007 to enable developers to plug in additional document formats and to enable users to set these formats as their default for saving documents.

I think this one is a lot more likely to happen. It just adds functionality to Office, without Microsoft having to do any of the work for it. Granted, this might not seem all that important to some of you. I, on the other hand, had a little nerdgasm. “I’ll get to use MS Word to directly save files in odf format? Hell yeah!” The girl sitting across from me at work looked at me like I’d lost my mind. That’s always been my biggest problem with MS Office: its lack of compatibility with other office software like (They tend to support Office, but Office doesn’t often support them).

And, as Microsoft almost states outright in the last paragraph, this is also an attempt to get on the European Union’s good side. The EU has been out to get Microsoft for a while (though they were late to the party; the US had already smacked them for being a monopoly by the time the EU noticed). Before this, the Microsoft/Yahoo merge simply wouldn’t have happened because the EU wouldn’t have allowed it. Now, if Microsoft convinces the EU that it means what it says, the EU might let this merge happen.

Is this really the beginning of a cuddlier Microsoft (or Microhoo, as the case may be)? I really have trouble swallowing that idea fully. However, it does make sense when I look at the path the company has been trying to take with the online portion of its business.


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