Microsoft wants to 'build Windows,' but how about bridges?

The software giant's new marketing campaign seems to be about hot air rather than substance, given its myriad efforts to raise barriers to interoperability.

Microsoft is about to embark on a new advertising campaign designed to make people love it again, and not merely endure it. With Apple showing that people will pay for beautiful, functional, and fun technology, Microsoft is playing catch-up with comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

There is rich irony in Microsoft opting for a comedian to help pitch its products, but I won't go there.

No, I'm more interested by its marketing theme: "Windows, Not Walls." Mary Jo Foley has taken a stab at deciphering the intent of the message.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, people close to Microsoft's campaign suggest that "the point is to stress breaking down barriers that prevent people and ideas from connecting." If this is correct, let me suggest an alternative tagline for a similar message:

Build bridges, not toll roads.

Through closed standards, aggressive patent FUD, and proprietary Office file formats and SharePoint repository, Microsoft has effectively declared war on the very idea of "breaking down barriers that prevent people and ideas from connecting"...unless you happen to be using 100 percent of Microsoft's software to do the job.

One of the biggest trends to knock down barriers to true interoperability has been open source and the open standards it espouses, yet Microsoft has sought to impose a patent toll on open source. For those interested in connecting with Microsoft's technology, Microsoft is glad to oblige, but only on its terms, with Microsoft firmly in control. Open source, however, believes in a very different kind of interoperability.

Microsoft needs to tear down its Berlin Wall between open source and its own proprietary technology if it truly wants to "break down barriers." Microsoft can't talk out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand it seeks to control and maintain its monopoly power through closed tolls, yet on the other it talks about breaking down barriers. It can't have it both ways.

This isn't about open source versus proprietary software. IBM and others have shown that one can embrace open source without giving up proprietary software. No, it's about a closed, destructive agenda that refuses to acknowledge open source on equal terms, and hence engages in the most constricted of ways.

Microsoft can do better. Whether it wants to, however, is a very different matter.

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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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