I want so much to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, and then I read his goofy intransigence on Jim Zemlin's Linux Foundation blog and I can't help but shake my head in disgust. Microsoft can milk its 20th-century successes for a long time. For it to join the 21st Century, however, it needs Ballmer gone and someone like Ray Ozzie in charge.
BRAD SMITH [Microsoft's general counsel]: With respect to other (commercial) distributors, and users, the clear message is that patent licenses will be freely available.
STEVE BALLMER: Patents will be, not freely, will be available.
BRAD SMITH: Readily available.
STEVE BALLMER: Readily available for the right fee.
Will someone please get adult supervision for Ballmer? The company attempts to take a step forward and Ballmer can't quite get it that two steps backward might be a clever dance move but it makes for lame corporate strategy.
Microsoft needs to learn to open up for its own good. As Ballmer and Ozzie noted in their press conference, and as the Wall Street Journal captures perfectly, their isolationist tricks of yesteryear don't work in the Internet economy:
Many players, from Google to individual programmers, are using a host of free technologies to build new types of applications that work over the Internet. Popular programs such as Google Earth and free email services are the result. Increasingly, companies and individuals are melding existing Web sites and software into new applications.
The more people use these applications, the less need they have for Microsoft's applications, or even for the traditional personal computer that runs Windows. By making its software more accessible, Microsoft is hoping to maintain the PC's relevance.
Can't you see this Mr. Ballmer? Or are you so shackled to past successes and past mindsets that you can't at least walk out of the room while others make grown-up decisions that will make your company relevant in the 21st Century?
People care less and less about your Windows monopoly. The Internet makes it almost irrelevant. Office? I use it infrequently now as email and my phone have taken over the "productivity suite" for how I (and others) collaborate. You have Exchange, yes, but it's a wrinkly curmudgeon, incapable of embracing the rise of social computing.
I applaud the attempt at openness you made this week. Now follow that up with real substance. The 30,000-plus pages that Microsoft released is a great start. It truly is. But if your policy remains "look but pay to touch" you will lose. Period.