Ballmer stumps for openness in bid to beat Apple

Microsoft's CEO is suddenly a friend of openness, when it gives him a stick with which to beat Apple. He seems to have a short memory on Microsoft's strategies.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once declared, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO and turgid (and very consistent) promoter of the software company's longstanding agenda against open source, apparently wants to step out of his proprietary box every so often, as he did Wednesday at the Mobile World Congress.

Ballmer, taking aim at Apple's closed iPhone ecosystem, declared the Apple kettle black and pleaded for openness, as CNET News reports :

I agree that no single company can create all the hardware and software. Openness is central because it's the foundation of choice.

I guess Ballmer forgot about how Microsoft has insisted it will emulate Apple's success by vertically integrating hardware and software? Or perhaps he's overlooking the vertical integration Microsoft has long pushed with Windows-plus-Internet Explorer (and other Microsoft software), or Microsoft's new push to tightly tie SharePoint in with Office, Windows, Active Directory, and more?

Ballmer has a short memory on Microsoft's strategies and a long leash when it comes to public pronouncements. So perhaps he can be forgiven for taking the word "openness" in his mouth and pretending it fits there. It doesn't or, at least, it hasn't.

Perhaps this is a new Microsoft, one that embraces open standards, open source, open APIs, and open competition. Perhaps. But that's Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie's schtick, not Ballmer's.

Public sophistry aside, Ballmer has not demonstrated that the lock-in strategies he has embraced and advanced for the past three decades have lost his favor. He's not the man to lead Microsoft to greater openness, given his past, and he sounds hypocritical pining for openness when nothing short of the U.S. government could wring the slightest concessions to openness from Microsoft.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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