Pushed by a fair share of commentary, dialogue and opinion, news of Microsoft's decision to submit its shared source licenses to the Open Source
Initiative for approval has taken a life of its own. There is no doubt that Microsoft's action towards a formal entry into the open source arena is indeed significant, not only as an indicator but also as a potential market marker. However, I'm of the opinion that the move is best understood through the same lens which shapes the strategic outlook for a company like Microsoft. A lens framed by a competitive view of the entire software industry as well as the open source marketplace.
Considering the inconclusive nature of this announcement (nothing has been finalized/approved, yet) it is best classified as an expressed commitment to better adhering to the principles of open source. Not to be confused with a promise or obligation, an expressed commitment is nonetheless a critical element in the development and execution of competitive strategy. Particularly, this one is vital not only because it hints at a 180 degree turn in Microsoft's acceptance of the open source model, but also because of its affect on the competitive landscape. The purpose here is to have the implied communication of a wider open source strategy simulate the effects that a verifiable set of actions would have had, as thus far Microsoft has yet to provide evidence (proportional to its size and available resources) of having truly begun to internalize the value of choice, collaboration and openness.
In order for any expressed commitment to be classed as credible there must be:
- Mechanisms to carry out the commitment quickly
- A clear intention to make good, including a history of carrying forward with previous commitments.
- An inability or moral resolve to back down
- The ability to gauge compliance to the terms of commitment.
I put a check next to both 1 and 4, as Microsoft always has had the brains and brawn to not only execute on a viable open source strategy but also figure out where, how and what changes need to be made. However, there just isn't enough body of work to support 2 or 3. Accordingly, I find it very difficult to classify this move by Microsoft as anything more than the submission of a set of licenses to the OSI, let alone assign credibility to any implicit commitment.
I also don't see it removing "...considerable
roadblocks in better executing these strategies in coming years," as
Gartner analyst Mark Driver stated. My question is how exactly does
this remove any roadblocks? Especially since most of these exist as a result of the structural realities of being an entrenched
market leader. More so, if the licenses are rejected do the roadblocks
reappear out of thin air? In essence, armed with the existing knowledge of facts, it's basically possible to assert as much/as little about Microsoft's open source
strategy as it is from a run-of-the-mill press release.
The counterpoint might be that the media/public/influencers would never be so easily lulled into mistaking announcement for actual deed. Nevertheless, when coupled with the attention afforded Microsoft's OOXML (DIS 29500) bid to become an ISO/IEC standard this year, in addition to the 2006 Novell patent deal it becomes clear how and why there are some who proclaim that Microsoft is well on the way to truly supporting open choices. Granted, I agree that progress has been made to an extent far exceeding what a great number of anti-Microsoft folks were predicting. And efforts like CodePlex and the Shared Source Initiative indicate a step up from what was previously an anti-open source tone set by the company. Yet considering the gravity of the competitive threat posed to Microsoft interests by open source as well as activity by other industry leaders such as IBM, Sun and BEA, the aforementioned endure as little more than footnotes in the grand scheme of things.
The crux of the matter remains that embracing open - anything isn't a one foot in, one foot out proposition. There are, of course, steps which need to be taken towards an end goal but it really needs to be embraced completely from the onset. As a result, larger outfits with quite a bit invested in being closed will continue to find it a challenge to balance ever-present profit motivations and pressures with the act of facilitating the growth of open models. And often for good reason: strategies and perspectives for one side are often diametrically opposed to those on the other. Ultimately, success lies in grasping the implications of this certainty and allowing them to sustain as active guidelines (see: IBM). On these grounds Microsoft is getting warmer, but not warm enough, just yet, to herald dawn of a proven open source strategy.