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What's Behind Microsoft's Recent Moves?

A tip of the hat to Mary Jo Foley, who's blogging about an issue that's earned our attention. That is, the spate of Microsoft announcements, initiatives and policy changes that all seem to point toward a more open and standards-compliant stance from Redmond. I wrote about this in the March 4 issue of the Redmond Developer Newsletter.

The question all along has been: why? Why is Microsoft now opening access to its technologies and conforming to standards? Is it all about customer demand and being competitive? To an extent, absolutely -- Microsoft customers and developers have welcomed all the recent moves. But it also seems that each new initiative is spurred by a pointed threat.

As Foley points out in her blog, the January decision by Microsoft to allow its customers to virtualize the Vista Home Basic and Vista Home Premium versions of its operating system may not be due to Microsoft becoming comfortable with the security of the environments. Rather, a legal complaint from BIOS maker Phoenix Technologies may have spurred Microsoft to change its stance.

According to the recent Joint Status Report from the Department of Justice in the United States vs. Microsoft Corporation case, Phoenix in December complained that its new virtualization product was likely to suffer from Microsoft's license restrictions. Phoenix also argued that Microsoft's stance would "deter consumers from using virtualization software made by Phoenix and other companies."

Microsoft moved quickly to resolve the complaint. As the document notes: "After discussions with Plaintiff States and the [Technical Committee], Microsoft agreed to remove the EULA restrictions and has done so."

It's hardly surprising that Microsoft, perhaps the most examined company in the world, might have to change course in response to legal or regulatory threats. What's really interesting is that we've seen several such corrections over the past couple of years. Whether it's Microsoft embracing XML file formats to avoid having Office locked out of Massachusetts, or Redmond announcing a four-point interoperability initiative just ahead of a European Union finding, it seems like there's an important dynamic driving some key business decisions in Redmond.

What does it mean for developers? In the short-term, Microsoft has delivered increased transparency, openness and interoperability. By any measure, these are very good things. The only concern is that it may have taken the point of a spear to get them done.

What do you think of Microsoft's recent moves? Do the motivations behind them even matter if developers are gaining the access and interoperability that they need? E-mail me at [email protected] and you could be featured in our upcoming coverage of this issue.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 03/11/2008

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