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Three myths Microsoft tells Russia

Microsoft has gotten better in its open-source rhetoric. Now it just needs to make sure its far-flung outposts get the message, too. Microsoft Russia's opinion on open source is stuck in the Cold War.

I'm at the Moscow airport getting ready to fly back to the United States. Before I leave, however, I figured it would be good to note (and then bury) three myths that I heard perpetuated by Microsoft at the Interop Moscow conference. They've been largely discredited elsewhere, but it appears Microsoft prefers to keep regurgitating the party line until abject ridicule sets in.

  1. Myth: Open source can't innovate. Coming from Microsoft, I found this galling in the extreme, especially since the Microsoft representative was using Sharepoint as an example of Microsoft's innovation, which is a clumsy ripoff of...ECM systems that my own company's founder created 15 years ago at Documentum. I mean, sure, it has Windows, Internet Explorer, Office, and other groundbreaking products (I'm being facetious). It also came up with the XBox, SQL Server, and other innovative stuff. (Still smiling.)

    OK, enough. Microsoft doesn't innovate. Very few companies do in the "Big Bang" theory of innovation. Rather, most innovation is incremental. For example, I consider Microsoft innovative for lowering the bar to computing. Microsoft makes software easier to use. That's innovative.

    Open source is increasingly innovating in a Big Bangish sense with projects like Ringside and Loopfuse that push the boundaries of what has been done (or is being done) in software, and Zimbra has taken email to a new level that Microsoft has dreams of achieving.

    But what about the Internet, which is largely an open source phenomenon? Or Linux in its ability to scale to widely different hardware? Or things like Second Life? Pretty innovative, if you ask me.

  2. Open source doesn't interoperate with other software well, while Microsoft does. Wow! The cheekiness of that one was breathtaking. There is nothing inherent in open source to prevent it from interoperability; on the contrary, there is much in it that lends itself to interoperability (open source, open standards, open APIs, etc.).

    Even worse was Microsoft's contention that it's an IP issue. Well, it is for Microsoft, but Microsoft largely stands alone in this. Microsoft has the keys in its hands to interoperate at an intellectual property level, but chooses not to or, rather, chooses to do so on a highly selective basis that the rest of its proprietary peers don't do. Microsoft, not the industry, is responsible for holding back on open-source interoperability.

    Even so, we interoperate with Microsoft products, anyway, even without Microsoft's blessing. As just one example, which content collaboration/management system integrates most seamlessly with Microsoft Office? If you said, "Sharepoint," you would be wrong. The answer is Alfresco. Who has seamlessly integrated the Microsoft CIFS interface into a Java-based CMS? If you said, "Sharepoint," you would again be wrong. The answer, again, is "Alfresco."

    I'm biased on this one (I work for Alfresco), but a quick download and five-minute installation will prove my point, if you don't believe me. Microsoft's integration with its own products often leaves much to be desired.

  3. There is no money in open source. It's funny to hear Microsoft use this one, as if its customers are desperate to hear it talk about how much money it makes at their expense. Microsoft's Russian representative was very proud at his company's outsized profits. What he failed to remember is that we're living in an increasingly efficient software market, with SaaS and open source driving down costs (and prices) to rational levels that are consistent with mature markets.

    Even so, just as in every other industry known to humankind, there's plenty of money available for open-source vendors, both pureplays and companies like Google that build on top of open source. There is no shortage of cash. There's just a shortage of creativity. Perhaps a few more 10 percent drops in net income will convince Microsoft that the world is (slowly) changing.

Microsoft has gotten better in its open-source rhetoric. Now it just needs to make sure its far-flung outposts get the message, too. Microsoft Russia's opinion on open source is stuck in the Cold War. Time to engage in Perestroika and grow up, my comrades.