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The other 20% on Novell or, When interop isn't

Interoperability is to Microsoft like prostitution is to a pimp.

I'm all for interoperability. But I have to wonder at Novell's and Microsoft's apparent definition of the term. Miguel de Icaza rightly took me to task for blanketing Novell with criticism yet, as was pointed out today, there is good reason for criticism of Moonlight/Silverlight:

To the extent that it requires Microsoft patent approval to be effective (and it does, by Miguel's own admission), it is shackled in its potential. Interoperability is to Microsoft what prostitution is to a pimp: a great source of control and income.

Jason Matusow (a great friend and Microsoft employee) crows about what a great example Moonlight is of Microsoft's interop work. But Jason, you have actually only succeeded in proving the point of Microsoft's critics: Microsoft can't seem to engage in interop except on its own, very closed terms. This isn't interoperability.

In other contexts, this is called extortion.

Jason writes:

Silverlight is interesting to me in that it deals with the spectrum of elements that foster interoperability. The one that I will focus on here is the business relationship with Novell. In case you did not see this in the release, Microsoft is also going to work with Novell on a project called "Moonlight" which is the idea of Silverlight on Linux.

Why is this interesting to me? Because at the heart of Silverlight is the desire to drive innovation forward....

My point is that the interoperability users will ultimately experience will not have come from a standard. It will come from the idea that innovation is driving forward the technology, and the businesses involved are finding ways to achieve interoperability via implementations, business arrangements, and IP agreements. It is too easy to fall into the myopia of interop=open standards. Real-world interop is going to come by keeping the full spectrum of possibilities in mind.

To paraphrase: interoperability is not about standards but rather about patent agreements that lock out customers and third parties, and instead creates interoperability between two consenting firms.

It's almost shocking to me at how myopic Microsoft continues to be. It has such a sadly narrow view on interoperability that I'm starting to feel sorry for the company, rather than angry at it.

There's a new world out here, Jason. It's called open source. It achieves interoperability through open source (access to source code by anyone who is willing to comply with the license, and not merely those Microserfs that sign away their rights to Microsoft) and open standards. In both cases, the interop is on the code's terms, not Microsoft's. See why this is useful? It allows would-be partners to collaborate first, and seek business relationships later. Much more efficient.

When the only Linux that works with Silverlight is Novell SUSE - not because of what the technology requires, but because of an arbitrary and capricious business decision - customers lose. And, frankly, Microsoft loses. That you can't see this is indicative of the cancer that is slowly eating away at Microsoft's future relevance.

The world is opening, and right now it's to your detriment. And to your customers', as Roy Schestowitz points out:

For all its seems, Microsoft wishes to have Linux users maneuvered into SUSE like a pen of sheep. Then, Linux users will be at Microsoft?s mercy.

I know Microsoft sees this. It's part of the plan. I just wish Novell could see this.