Barney's Rubble

Take No Prisoners

When it comes to Microsoft's take-charge philosophy, how aggressive is too aggressive?

As a journalist I absolutely love to cover Microsoft. After 30 years, the company has more attitude and spunk than a West Coast rapper -- and lots more enemies.

This makes great copy, and this kind of tension is what excited me about the PC business when I first started covering it almost exactly 23 years ago. The business was full of personality and competition. And a lowly journalist like me could get within spitting distance of the action.

Back then, like now, Microsoft had a personality that would do a professional wrestler proud.

I can be blasé about the Microsoft attitude because I don't buy or sell or use large quantities of its software. If a multibillion-dollar Microsoft exec puts down Google or open source or Oracle, I'm not really affected -- except when I have to write a story or newsletter item about it!

But customers are affected.

A young Ballmer?

Let's look at IBM. When IBM, especially Global Services, walks through the door it's often ready for a freewheeling conversation about your entire shop. Want desktop Linux? Here you go! Want Windows XP or Vista tied to Windows 2003 Servers? We can do that too! While product groups tout their own gear, IBM is no longer terribly religious about software.

In contrast, Microsoft asks its customers and partners to take a stand the same way it always has. It wants you to believe in the Microsoft vision where Microsoft products all interoperate first and work with other vendors second.

Its "take no prisoners" public statements ram the point home. This is nothing new. Back in the day, Bill Gates always had a few choice words for Lotus, WordPerfect, Borland, Apple and IBM.

Steve Ballmer, today's more visible face of Microsoft, is equally un-shy, making for great press conferences and quotes.

But is this good for IT? Do you want to hear that your decision to run Web servers on Apache is wrong, that open source is a cancer and that Microsoft wants to bury Google, from whom you just bought a pallet of enterprise search appliances?

As Microsoft ages and matures, I believe it'll have to act more like IBM, being technology neutral and focusing on solutions rather than the platform. Ultimately, Microsoft can make a lot more money this way. And it can still feel free to develop its own platform(s). After all, IBM didn't stop making mainframe operating systems, it just stopped being so narrow minded in promoting them.

As a selfish journalist, I'm not sure I want Microsoft to act so shiny and happy. It could make Redmond a boring magazine. What about you? Would you sacrifice a bit of spunk and entertainment in return for a bit less software religion? Let me know at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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