Microsoft fights the 'open' fight amid the clouds

Cloud computing is still in its infancy, but it looks like the same kinds of political battles that plagued on-premise software development already are well along their way...

Microsoft has taken its fight against a "secret" document known as the "Cloud Manifesto" out into the open.

Here's what we, the public, know so far: Someone (or some group) asked some people at Microsoft to sign something called the Cloud Manifesto which was created by some company or set of companies.

Here's what we don't know: Who wrote the Manifesto; who asked Microsoft to sign it; what are the exact terms in the Manifesto to which Microsoft is objecting; and who (if anyone) would be bound to the terms of the Manifesto.

Microsoft's Senior Director of Development Platform Management Steven Martin said he is not at liberty to comment on any of these questions. He referred me to his blog post from March 25. In that post, Martin said:

"We were admittedly disappointed by the lack of openness in the development of the Cloud Manifesto. What we heard was that there was no desire to discuss, much less implement, enhancements to the document despite the fact that we have learned through direct experience.  Very recently we were privately shown a copy of the document, warned that it was a secret, and told that it must be signed 'as is,' without modifications or additional input.  It appears to us that one company, or just a few companies, would prefer to control the evolution of cloud computing, as opposed to reaching a consensus across key stakeholders (including cloud users) through an “open” process. An open Manifesto emerging from a closed process is at least mildly ironic."

Microsoft is proposing an alternative "Open Cloud Manifesto" that calls for the creation of cloud interoperability standards via a collaborative, Wiki-based process.

Explaining why he blogged about the Manifesto without being able to share any details, Martin said,  "Daylight is the best disinfectant" for this situation.

Unfortunately, the "daylight" is still rather dim at this point.

There's a document labeled as the "Cloud Manifesto" that someone posted on March 26 to Wikipedia. I asked Martin whether this was the same document to which Microsoft is so strenuously objecting. Martin said he was not allowed to comment.

If this is the same Cloud Manifesto, here are its key tenets:

1. User centric systems enrich the lives of individuals; education, communication, collaboration, business, entertainment and society as a whole. 2. Philanthropic initiatives can greatly increase the well-being of mankind. 3. Openness of standards, systems and software empowers and protects users. 4. Transparency fosters trust and accountability; decisions should be open to public collaboration and scrutiny and never be made "behind closed doors". 5. Interoperability ensures effectiveness of cloud computing as a public resource; systems must be interoperable. 6. Representation of all stakeholders is essential; interoperability and standards efforts should not be dominated by vendor(s). 7. Discrimination against any party for any reason is unacceptable. 8. Evolution is an ongoing process in an immature market; standards may take some time to develop and coalesce. 9. Balance of commercial and consumer interests is paramount. 10. Security is fundamental, not optional.

Could Microsoft really be objecting to increasing the well-being of mankind? I am sure many Apple and Linux users would say it's possible, but that's not where I'm betting the problems lie. If this is the same Cloud Manifesto Microsoft is criticizing, my guess is it's bullet point three that is sticking in Microsoft's craw: "Openness of standards, systems and software empowers and protects users."

Microsoft may be advocating for interoperability and an open process, but the company is definitely not in favor of a document that could be read as backing open-source software. As Microsoft discovered during its protracted battle over ODF vs. OOXML, the word "open" can mean different things to different people.

Cloud computing is still in its infancy, but it looks like the same kinds of political battles that plagued on-premise software development already are well along their way...

Update: In my comments, Reuven Cohen, founder and CTO of Enomaly Inc., said the Cloud Manifesto document on Wikipedia  is not the actual Cloud Manifesto. He also said "dozens" of companies are preparing to unveil the official Manifesto on March 30. I'd guess Microsoft won't be among that group, based on Martin's blog post. Maybe we'll see two dueling cloud manifestos, each vying to be seen as the most "open."

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