Bob Muglia: Microsoft changing its approach to interoperability

"What has changed is the way we think about how we work across the industry in terms of providing interoperable solutions. Our focus has shifted over the last few years.
Written by Dan Farber, Inactive on

"What has changed is the way we think about how we work across the industry in terms of providing interoperable solutions. Our focus has shifted over the last few years." Those are the words of Bob Muglia, Microsoft's senior vice president of servers and tools.

He was speaking at the Interop conference this morning in Las Vegas about the "new" Microsoft that is now embracing and extending beyond its stack to benefit customers, with "interoperability by design." This comes after Microsoft’s recent claim that open source software violates 235 of its patents, perhaps as a way to create roadblocks to the forthcoming GPL version 3. During his keynote, Muglia mentioned the patents and attempted to clarify Microsoft's position.

"Customers say it is problematic when they are working with open source, but don't have similar IP protection [compared to commercial software or hardware]," he said. "There is no mechanism to license opens source software with assurance not at risk. We are working with the industry and with open source vendors to provide very straightforward programs for licensing. If you want Linux, for example, Microsoft is proactively addressing [assurance] in a cost-effective, industry friendly way."

Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley doesn't believe that Microsoft has the best interest of customers at heart by asking them to license patent that it says open source software violate.

I'm stunned that after taking a number of seemingly positive steps vis-a-vis its thinking and strategy around open source, Microsoft has decided to blow away any bridges it built in a matter of weeks. Until recently, it was primarily CEO Steve Ballmer who was championing publicly Microsoft’s old “closed source is good/open source is bad” rhetoric. (For every three steps forward others at Microsoft took toward understanding and articulating ways that open source and proprietary source could coexist, Ballmer only managed to take two steps back.)

This newest Microsoft-sponsored study adds insult to injury. The company’s decision to go public with an alleged count of patent infringements has backfired and turned into a three-ring circus (If you doubt that, check out the list of nearly 300 individuals who’ve lined up on a public Wiki asking for Microsoft to “sue me first” for patent violations.)

Muglia announced three new licensees of Microsoft networking protocols--Juniper Networks, Aruba Wireless Networks and OnStor--as evidence that IP licensing is more than tolerated by customers.

On the theme of interoperability, Muglia, a 19-year veteran of Microsoft, defined it as "enabling IT systems and business processes to exchange data and facilitate the sharing of information and knowledge."

Microsoft has historically fixated on integrating its own set of applications--intra-operability.

Now, Microsoft is taking a more liberal approach to opening up its core software and playing nice with others. "There should be no vendor restriction in doing what you want with the data you create," Muglia said, "and we are working with the industry to facilitate [interoperability] through open standards and a wide variety of connectors and other mechanisms. One of the mechanisms is Microsoft's Open Specification Promise, which offers protocols such WS-* and Open XML royalty free.

In many aspects, Microsoft has been the platform and ecosystem feeding thousand of developers tied to Windows. At the same time, the company is a potential competitor as Symantec and McAfee have found in the security space, for example. Microsoft is partnering with multiple vendors on in the unified communications, federated identity and virtualization areas, but could someday eat their lunch. It's the law of the jungle, and could lead industry competitors to think that Microsoft is playing with loaded dice.

Microsoft has been a reluctant interoperator, but in going for enterprise customers, the build the moat mentality is being moderated. Of course that doesn't mean that Microsoft will accept anyone's definition of interoperability or formats. The debate over the OpenDoc Format versus Office Open XML last year was a good example of Microsoft's reluctance to be flexible, although it eventually sponsored the Open XML Translator project on SourceForge.net.

Muglia said the two weeks ago 20 CTOs from major customers were on the Microsoft campus offering feedback on interoperability problems.

"We were pleased as we walked into the interoperability council that 70 percent of the problems we found solutions for. If you look at the matrix of interoperability that customers have, you can understand the complexity of the environment they face. It really sets the context and why we have to change our approach to interoperability."

As an example, Greg Leake, director of the Microsoft application server group, demoed swaping interfaces between WebSphere and .Net without a single line of code using Web services.

Rather than putting a fork in the eye of open source by trumpeting its patents , Microsoft would be better off focusing on more efforts like Duet and reducing the friction in interoperating with external systems.

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