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Microsoft: 'I Drink Your Milkshake'

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've almost certainly noticed Microsoft's shift toward a more open, interoperable and standards-savvy approach to development technologies.

It's a trend that started with the release of the .NET source code and promotion of XML-based open file formats for Office, and recently culminated in the Feb. 21 "Interoperability Pledge" announcement.

What's remarkable isn't that Microsoft is playing nicely with others; the company has enjoyed a long history of fruitful partnerships, often with unexpected partners like Apple, Red Hat and Sun Microsystems. Rather, it's the way that Microsoft seems to be turning its vast and remarkable ecosystem toward the emerging threat and opportunity posed by open source development and standards-based Web services.

You see, in the past, Microsoft would identify a key market opportunity or threat and target it with a compelling offering. So Microsoft Excel was set against Lotus 1-2-3, MSN was set against AOL and Internet Explorer competed with Netscape Navigator.

But how does Microsoft compete against a movement? The rapidly growing web of standards and open source solutions serving the enterprise poses a real danger to Microsoft.

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em. Then Beat 'Em.
Unable to simply set a product against this broad phenomenon, Microsoft instead mirrors the actions of Daniel Plainview in the acclaimed movie There Will Be Blood, and proposes to drain the momentum and revenue right out from under the competition.

The Office Open XML (OOXML) file format is a case in point. Faced with an established open source XML standard (OpenDocument Format) and the real possibility that government and regulatory bodies might mandate a move off the proprietary binary Office formats, Microsoft launched OOXML as an industry standard. More than that, it's moved aggressively to deploy an ecosystem of partners, on display at the recent Interoperability Lab in Cambridge, Mass., to surround ODF's position.

You can almost picture Daniel Day-Lewis describing his long straw as it reaches across the room and saying, "I drink your milkshake. I drink it up!"

Just as Plainview surrounded a sought-for oil field and drained its wealth right out from under the owner's deed, Microsoft is shifting the competition. Instead of simply going head-to-head against ODF or Web services or competing browser platforms, Redmond is going over, under, around and into the competition. It's co-opting standards-making processes and adopting mature industry standards even as it opens access to its once-hidden IP.

The good news for developers is that we can expect Microsoft to become increasingly engaged with both open source- and industry standards-based projects and efforts. We can expect to enjoy broader and deeper access to Microsoft IP than ever before. And we can expect more partnerships like the PHP project with Zend Technologies and the Mono and Moonlight projects with Novell. This is all welcome news.

But don't think for a moment that Microsoft isn't anxious to monetize or leverage every precious ounce of IP it can muster.

In less than a week, we should learn the results of the long-running OOXML standardization battle in the ISO. Win or lose, this is just the beginning. Even without ISO imprimatur, Microsoft will make its file format spec a major contender. It's breaking down the competitive value of ODF by opening its own standard, by enabling an ecosystem of rich solutions around OOXML and by making available the vast leverage of the Office and Windows platforms.

And Microsoft is working to apply this same model across the entire enterprise Web space, from Web services to rich Internet application runtimes. To turn an old phrase: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Then beat 'em.

What do you think of Microsoft's open and interoperable strategy? E-mail me at mdesmond@reddevnews.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 03/25/2008 at 1:15 PM

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