The Year in Review: Microsoft Opens Up

Opinion: It wasn't a banner year for new Microsoft product releases. But Microsoft did get more 'transparent' in 2004.

Microsoft watchers wont hail 2004 as a banner year for new products from Microsoft. But the year was memorable for another reason. In 2004, Microsoft was far more open about its product-release foibles than ever before.

Microsofts increasing "transparency," as company execs tend to label its newfound openness, isnt due to a sudden desire to make amends for past cover-up capers. Instead, Microsoft is finally listening to customers, and customers are telling the Redmond software maker that they want the truth. And if Microsoft wont come clean about its product plans, a growing number of users have made it plain that they have alternatives and are ready to use them.

Unhappy Microsoft customers have a funny way of becoming Linux, and Oracle customers. Begrudgingly, Microsoft has come to grips with this reality.

During the past year, Microsoft went public with its Longhorn missteps that ultimately resulted in Microsofts decision to exorcise from Longhorn WinFS (the supposed heart of the next major Windows release). The company admitted that it was cutting Windows Server "R2" features to be able to make good on its 2005 ship date. And it owned up to its decision to delay myriad products, ranging from Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005, to the 64-bit Windows Server 2003 releases and Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1.

In the past, Microsoft simply would have tried to sweep these kinds of schedule screw-ups under the rug. (It is worth noting the Redmond leopard has not completely changed its spots, however. We still caught the companys top brass making unfounded claims, such as "we never said WinFS would be part of Longhorn Server.")

In spite of these occasional throwbacks, however, wed still say that Microsofts biggest achievement of the past year was improving the frequency, visibility and accuracy of its product road maps.

Sure, were not talking open-source-like transparency, where the community of contributors plays a major role in developing and delivering on ship-date promises. But over the past year, Microsoft admittedly borrowed more than a few pages from the open-source play book.

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