Microsoft has often come under fire for failing to work together closely with products from other vendors. Part of this is due to the company’s overwhelming success in the desktop market with Windows and Office, but the attitude also stems from the company’s location and culture. Wandering around the enormous Microsoft campus in Redmond, WA, it is at times difficult to even remember that there is a world outside the company. (The rumors that the trees on the edge of the campus are marked with yellow paint are completely untrue, however.)
Even a few years ago, a quick perusal of the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer exams showed an example fantasy world where every server in a massive corporation would be running some kind of Windows. Perhaps Microsoft hoped that tons of freshly-minted MCSEs would go out into the world and make that kind of homogeneous server environment a reality.
Unfortunately for the company, the server world tends to be stubbornly heterogeneous, and even small institutions tend to cobble together all kinds of servers, from OpenBSD-based firewalls to Exchange servers, and even the occasional Novell server buried behind drywall. More and more companies are wishing to integrate different types of devices into their corporate networks, and despite Microsoft’s best efforts, not all of these devices run Windows.
In acknowledgement of this reality, Microsoft has been tentatively extending feelers towards other platforms, specifically the open-source world. The company created a Linux Lab specifically to work on interoperability issues with their server software, and opened up the workings of the lab to the public in April of this year. Now, Microsoft has announced the creation of a Customer Interoperability Council, designed to communicate customer needs to various Microsoft product divisions.
“As part of our commitment to Trustworthy Computing, we design our products with interoperability in mind so our customers can connect to other platforms, applications and data easily,” said Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the Server and Tools Business at Microsoft. “The Interoperability Customer Executive Council will help us prioritize areas where we can achieve greater interoperability through product design, collaboration agreements with other companies, standards, and effective licensing of our intellectual property.”
The council will meet twice a year in Redmond. Council members will include top executives (CEOs, CEOs, and CIOs) from leading technology corporations, as well as representatives from various governments, such as Denmark’s Ministry of Finance, Spain’s Generalitat de Catalunya, and that country’s Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI). This is undoubtedly a political move designed to relieve some of the antitrust pressure Microsoft has been receiving recently from European politicians. The European Union has been particularly insistent that Microsoft reveal details about their server protocols in order to foster competition. While Microsoft claims to have complied with their requests, the EU begs to differ. The company is probably hoping that the creation of this council will help settle things down, at least for the moment.
Will the council have a real effect on Microsoft’s interoperability with other platforms? The answer probably depends on your point of view. Microsoft is still a for-profit public company, and their mandate continues to be to increase the company’s sales and overall market value by any means at their disposal. However, efforts to improve interoperability between Microsoft products and those from other vendors do, in fact, align with this goal. Microsoft products that work and play well with others are going to be seen by purchasers as being of greater value than those that don’t. The company has been reporting record sales of their server products this year, and much of that success has to be attributed to a greater focus on interoperability by the company. Whatever their motivation, however, the push towards interoperability will hopefully go a long way towards reducing IT headaches.