Microsoft's Interop Push

In some late-breaking news, Microsoft this morning announced what company officials called "significant" changes to its technologies and business practices that are designed to increase the interoperability of high-volume products with those of competitors, including open source-based software.

Speaking at a press conference today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer outlined four new interoperability principles. They include ensuring open connections, promoting data portability, enhancing support for industry standards, and fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities.

"These steps are an important step and significant change in how we share information about our high-volume products and technologies," he said.

Below are Ballmer's detailed explanations from today's news conference of the new principles and how they'll be implemented:

On open connections:

"We will document all of the APIs and communications protocols that are used by Microsoft products. We are announcing that developers will not need to take a license or pay a royalty or other fee to access any of that information. As an immediate first step to apply the principles, we are publishing to the Web over 30,000 pages of documentation for Windows clients and server protocols that were previously available only under a trade secret license. Also, protocol documentations for additional products like Office 2007 will be published in the upcoming months."

On data portability:

"We recognize that different users support different file formats for different reasons. We have consistently supported different file formats and user choice. But with today's announcements, specifically, we are designing new APIs for Word, Excel and PowerPoint that will allow developers to plug in additional document formats and enable users to set those formats as their default for saving documents."

On standards:

"We are also going to document how we are going to support various standards, including documentation of extensions we make to those standards. They should allow developers to understand how a standard is used in a Microsoft product and how to foster and improve interoperability for customers."

On industry engagements:

"We set out some years ago to form an Interoperability Executive Council which has been very valuable in terms of input to us on important interoperability needs. But with this announcement, we are also launching what we are calling our Open Source Interoperability Initiative. This will provide a set of technical content and other information that promotes more interoperability between Microsoft software and open source software. We will also create an ongoing dialogue with customers and developers, as well as the open source community, through an online interoperability forum that will be much more broadly available than our Interoperability Executive Council."

Ballmer concluded his remarks by saying that, indeed, Microsoft's "long-term success" depends on its ability to deliver a software and services platform that's open, flexible and provides customers and developers with choice. For more in-depth coverage of the conference, including comments from Ray Ozzie and others, check out the news story by Jeffrey Schwartz, Redmond Developer News magazine's executive editor.

Early reactions from some industry analysts and pundits suggest that Microsoft's timing of this announcement has a lot to do with the International Standards Organization holding meetings next week to decide whether Redmond's Open Office XML document format should be granted status as a certified ISO standard.

For more information about today's announcement, go here.

Microsoft: Vista SP1 Will Break Some Applications
Even before it's officially out of the blocks, Microsoft has published a list of applications that will either flat-out not work or break under Windows Vista SP1.

The list is largely populated with security programs including Trend Micro's Internet Security 2008. Perhaps a bit surprising, however, is that the New York Times Reader is also on that list. Not good.

A statement released by the company about SP1 reads, in part: "Windows Vista Service Pack 1 contains many security, reliability, and feature updates for Windows Vista...a program may experience a loss of functionality after you install Windows Vista SP1. However, most programs will continue to work as expected after you install Windows Vista SP1."

Hey, thanks, thanks a lot. Good thing Microsoft doesn't make airplanes. "Your aircraft may experience a loss of functionality after you install Windows Vista SP1..."

Vista doesn't need to be giving existing and prospective users any more headaches at this point. This will do nothing to calm the fears of those already skeptical about migrating to Vista because of incompatibilities with their older systems.

Gates: People Are at the Heart of Yahoo Deal
Microsoft's interest in Yahoo is all about the people. This, according to Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates himself.

Speaking to reporters after a speech he gave earlier this week at Stanford University, Gates said he believes that what makes Yahoo worth $40 billion (and yes, the company's worth has fallen some based on the stock's performance since Feb. 1) is the company's high level of engineering talent. Chairman Bill noted that it takes an enormous amount of manpower to generate the necessary tools to build the wide range of technology that keeps its existing core products and services moving forward, as well as to come up with new offerings.

Bill could be just sweet-talking Yahoo's powers that be so they would agree amicably to the deal. But letting the outside world know the importance of Yahoo's talent to the deal may be risky, given there's a good chance that many top-level programmers would leave the company if Microsoft succeeds in its acquisition bid.

Industry analysts have pointed out more than a few times this month how different the corporate cultures of the two companies are, to say nothing of how different their business models are (i.e., Yahoo is primarily a media company and Microsoft is a software engineering company). But Gates said that the fact Yahoo wants to do "breakthrough software" and compete well against Google is what would bind the new company together.

And sweet-talk is all Chairman Bill is willing to offer the Yahooians: He's decidedly not willing to sweeten the deal financially by offering more than the $44.6 billion already on the table. He believes the first offer is both "full and fair."

But just in case sweet-talk isn't enough, Microsoft's preparations to wage a proxy fight against Yahoo to gain control of the company are now well underway. If sweet-talk and hardball don't work between now and March 13, Microsoft will nominate and present its own list of directors to Yahoo's board.

Windows 7 Gets a Voice
Speaking of sweet-talk or otherwise, Chairman Bill also dropped some hints this week about Windows 7, the successor to Windows Vista that's due -- oh, I don't know -- several light years from now.

While he didn't spill a lot of details, Gates said he expects Windows 7 to represent a "big step forward in terms of speech." So it sounds like users won't have to rely on mice and keyboards as much as they have in the past.

Microsoft officials have already intimated that gestures similar to what Apple iPhone users employ would be important features in Windows 7, meaning touch-screen capabilities will be one of the highlights. It's Redmond's hope that many younger students and working professionals will gravitate toward laptops and other mobile PCs that will be capable of some sort of pen input in the future.

One has to wonder: With all the features Microsoft had to yank out of Vista in order to ship the darn thing inside of five years, is the company asking for more trouble by trying to cram these next-generation technologies into a product aimed at hundreds of millions of people?

Well, who knows how Windows 7.0 will look and feel? Or maybe we do know. Over the past week, someone leaked screenshots that were reportedly of Windows 7 to a number of Web sites. These screenshots show a work in progress that looks like it could be a close cousin to Vista with some differences. In one example, users can apparently display hidden items in the system tray via a pop-up window, while in another the Control Panel sported rearranged menus.

Mailbag: Microsoft Not Taking 'No' for an Answer, More
Despite Yahoo's initial rejection, the Microsoft-Yahoo buyout deal hasn't quieted down. In fact, Microsoft is gearing up to take the fight to the Yahoo board room. But one reader thinks the decent thing to do is to back down:

Maybe I am a throwback to an earlier era, but my immediate thought was that if Yahoo does not want to be absorbed by Microsoft, then Gates and Co. should respect that -- and get lost.
-Anonymous

Yesterday, after reporting that Dell would be revamping its support services, Lafe asked readers to share their own tech support stories. Here's Judith's tale of woe:

Early last summer, our school received a shipment of 22 Dell desktops. The first problem was that of the 22 machines, four had problems. Two had bad hard drives, one had a bad DVD burner and the fourth had a bad video card.

While this percentage is inexcusable, what was even worse was the miserable way I was treated. It took six different phone calls to get service. On each call, I'd be transferred to at least three different people and each would ask me to repeat the same information: my name, my organization, my phone number, my order number, etc. Each call would take 30 to 50 minutes with no resolution. At one point, the person on the line accused me of "stealing" the video card from the machine. When I voiced indignation at the accusation, he said that the kids in the school must have stolen the card. What a marvelous way to do business.

I realize that there were several issues to solve. I was new to the position, so I was not the name on the order. The computers were ordered in June, arrived in July, but the school year and my job did not start until September. Yes, these problems were mine, but Dell's response was beyond abysmal. They should be ashamed.
-Judith

Got something to add? Tell us about it! Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to escannell@redmondmag.com.

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