Microsoft's real game: Open interoperability protects its stack

The cynics are out in force over Microsoft's open interoperability initiative, but it's actually a positive development. Just don't get carried away with the Kool-Aid though because there's a good business reason for Microsoft to make this move: The software giant is protecting its stack.

The cynics are out in force over Microsoft's open interoperability initiative, but it's actually a positive development. Just don't get carried away with the Kool-Aid though because there's a good business reason for Microsoft to make this move: The software giant is protecting its stack.

As a recap: Microsoft rolled out the following "strategic changes" in technology and business practices (conference call transcript). Sounds important eh? Here are the four points beaten to death today in the tech press:

  • Ensuring open connections;
  • Promoting data portability;
  • Enhancing support for industry standards;
  • Fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities.

The reaction is interesting. Mary Jo Foley says the announcement is largely hollow and deciphers the fine print. Matt Asay says that Microsoft's announcement is a positive development. John Carroll says the cynics should relax. Simply put, there are gazillion opinions about this interoperability move. Perhaps this is Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer listening to customers about mixed environments. Perhaps this is Ray Ozzie's big coming out party. Or perhaps this is Microsoft just protecting its interests.

So what's Microsoft up to here? For starters, Microsoft's move means that it is acknowledging that there will be mixed environments in the enterprise. And it's in everyone's interest if the collection of Linux and Windows infrastructure works together. But more importantly Microsoft is protecting its stack.

If Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007 all work with open source software you'll have one less reason to rip them out for Red Hat Enterprise Linux or some other alternative. Let's face it--no IT manager wants to rip out everything in the name of going open source. But companies do want to save a few dollars where possible. Microsoft's message: Don't rip us out. Rip out that Siebel and drop in SugarCRM. Hey folks, go nuts with your open source alternatives--just do it a layer above your Windows infrastructure.

And guess what? Everyone will go along with this. If you're an open source application company why wouldn't you want to tap into that vast Windows architecture already deployed. Is Microsoft's interoperability song and dance the most altruistic move in the world? No. But it makes a helluva lot of business sense.

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