Letters to Redmond

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This month, readers chime in on Microsoft and open source, and sound off about the Office UI.

Old Habits Die Hard
[Regarding the March 2007 cover story, "Open Source Enlightenment,"] a couple of decades of experience have shown that Microsoft is an extremely developer-friendly company. Anyone willing to port software to a Microsoft platform and therefore make the platform more valuable is greeted sincerely with open arms. But what history has also shown is that Microsoft has a habit of letting a niche develop right until it takes off, at which point Microsoft comes in and crushes all opposition by means of subsidies, sheer commercial weight and probably one of the most vicious distortions of standardization and interoperability efforts.

With that track record, Microsoft will have an extremely hard time convincing anyone that it intends to cooperate. The company belatedly begins to use open source, but only to strengthen its grip on its customers.
Jean-Marc Liotier
Paris, France

Microsoft has gotten itself into a few comfortable niche markets -- the office desktop and the home computer appliance-and is trying for some other equally comfortable niches -- the "enterprise" back office and the cell phone, for example.

Microsoft's major problem is that its traditional method -- allow the pioneers to innovate and develop a market, then step in and take it off them -- doesn't work any longer. There are two reasons for this: Redmond goes to sleep once it gains a monopoly, and the Free and Open Source Software [FOSS] development process and people do better work than Microsoft does and are eating its lunch slowly but surely.

Microsoft's actions are perfectly understandable -- even to a certain degree reasonable. But IBM for one has found that the only way to gain respectability in the FOSS circles is to become an active contributor-and Ballmer's rumblings indicate that Microsoft's head honchos aren't comfortable with that.

How it will all pan out, I don't know -- but I have thought that SQL Server could be a real market leader if it dropped the religious "Microsoft-only" stance and got ported to Linux and Solaris. But Microsoft would need a management buy-out to do that -- Ballmer doesn't have the guts to do it, that's for certain.
Wesley Parish
Christchurch, New Zealand

I run a software company and our goal, too, is to make money. However, we don't illegally abuse a monopoly (as Microsoft was convicted of doing). We don't try to shove Digital Rights Management down our customers' throats. We don't impose onerous end user license agreements on our customers. (Our proprietary software ships with source, and customers are permitted to modify it.) We don't send nastygrams from the Business Software Alliance shaking down people to prove license compliance. In short, it is possible for software companies to make money without treating their customers like criminals.
David Skoll
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Not Buying the Hype
The UI -- as discussed in Barney's Rubble, February 2007 -- is like a work of art that has been touted as a masterful work of color and grace when all it is, is three squares of different sizes, painted imperfectly and stuck in a gallery to be sold for $12,000. Why is this humble effort at being remarkable so admired? Who decided to call it a ribbon anyway? I'll cease my attempts at wit and get to the point. I don't care who owns it because I can't afford it. I'm going to install Linux on the three PCs I have at home (with GNUCash and OpenOffice) and when (and if) I get Vista and Office 2007 at work I'll dance and sing songs of joy.
Randall Frye
Cleveland, Ohio

About the Author

This page is compiled by the editors of Redmond magazine from your letters. Write to us at [email protected] and if your letter is printed in the magazine, you'll be entered into a drawing for a free Redmond T-shirt.


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