Microsoft 'Wasn't Pressured' into Becoming More Open

A Microsoft official acknowledges market skepticism, but says he is confident that people will look at the company's actions as well as its words.

Microsoft was not reacting to pressure from the European Commission or anyone else when it decided to commit to a set of interoperability principles designed to increase the openness of its high-volume products.

So said Horacio Gutierrez, vice president of intellectual property and licensing for Microsoft, in an interview with eWEEK following the company's Feb. 21 media teleconference announcing the move.

Microsoft recognizes that many people are skeptical of the move, but the company is confident that people will look at its actions as well as its words, Gutierrez said.

"We are not doing this because we are being forced to, we are doing this voluntarily. We are also not just stating a number of principles, but we are immediately acting to implement those principles," he said.

But to Chris Swenson, director of software industry analysis at the NPD Group, the move is clearly designed to address some of Microsoft's current and potential legal issues.

"I think this in an important strategic move by Microsoft, one that may mitigate the damage in one antitrust trial and possibly forestall another before it gets off the ground. But I really think Microsoft should be commended for taking such steps," Swenson said. "Going forward, this program should put to rest competitors' claims that Microsoft is preventing their solutions from functioning properly."

Microsoft Watch Editor Joe Wilcox found the timing of the announcement "suspicious" given the potential public relations boost Microsoft could get from it, about a week before a key vote will determine whether or not ISO (International Organization for Standardization) will adopt Microsoft's Office file format as a standard.

"The principles also aren't really new-the European Union's Competition Commission required the principles' framework, in response to Microsoft's March 2004 adverse antitrust ruling," Wilcox said in a Microsoft Watch post.

But while Microsoft's Gutierrez said it is normal for people to be skeptical, Gutierrez said the company made this move on its own terms because it realized that this was "the responsible thing to do at this point" based on what it had learned from partners, customers and regulators over the years.

Michael Cunningham, general counsel at Linux vendor and Microsoft competitor Red Hat, said he had heard it all before and that he viewed Microsoft's latest move with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Gutierrez acknowledged that Microsoft would need time to get things right on the specifications front, as many of these were works in progress.

"For some of these specifications, which are essentially beta versions, we will learn, and they may initially not be as good as the ultimate version that emerges, but that is the nature of creating specifications from scratch when they were nonexistent before," Gutierrez said.

Bill Hilf, Microsoft's general manager of Windows Server marketing and platform strategy, told eWEEK during the same interview that Microsoft's move to embrace openness and interoperability is not mere PR magic or a marketing campaign, but rather represents a substantial change to what the company had been doing all the way from software design to leadership across the firm.

Read more here about the extent of Microsoft's support for open standards.

"I would challenge anyone to find another commercial software vendor who is doing anything like this. Who else is providing all of their protocol and API information to the broad community in a completely accessible way? It really is a substantial change to the way that we, and I think the industry, is looking at opening up," Hilf said.

No other company is giving this same level of transparency or making this amount of its information available on its Web site, he said, adding, "If you are an open-source developer and want to find out where patent protocols are, so that you can work around them, you now can."

He said Microsoft was hopeful that these moves would result in more people taking advantage of all the information it is making available and developing products that work better with its products and others in the marketplace.

"This enhances the entire ecosystem and thus benefits Microsoft and its shareholders," Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager of interoperability and standards, told eWEEK.