Tuesday, April 17, 2007

From a plugin to innovation

So Microsoft's Open Source Labs has sent in a Media Player plug-in fix for Firefox (it "[it] shows another level of interoperability and eagerness in working with the Community"). You can check out the features offered (and of course, there is the gentleman in the comments who asks, "This is cool, but is there some chance of Microsoft creating an official Linux version of the Windows Media codecs so that people using Linux machines can view content on webpages that is encoded with WMx?"). This reminds me of yet another conversation in Seattle with folks from Port 25. I had asked the question on whether as part of their strategy of "working with" or "contributing to" the "community" they planned to send in code to FOSS projects. At that time, the response was whether or not I counted all the other instances of helping FOSS applications run on Windows, or the interoperability work counted as "contributions". They do in one sense, but the most fundamental contribution, and one that would help Microsoft best understand the culture that they seem to quite deeply misunderstand, would be to immerse themselves in it, and allow themselves the luxury of stepping away from thinking of it in terms of only business and technical models, and instead to think about it as a genuine passion for people. Thinking about it as a passion doesn't mean regarding them as nuts, or "extremists", or any other loaded term, but instead to try and understand the nature of the motivations that could have led to the FOSS dimension in its current shape. Innovation is driven by so many different motivations that it is simplistic in the extreme to imagine that it always takes capital to get it rolling (and shouldn't the copious literature on FOSS put out by business departments have convinced them otherwise?). MS often seems worried that not only will their business collapse if they were to go open-source, they just wouldn't get any code written. I don't know about their business (but I suggest they'd be surprised by how friendly the GPL would be to them) but I know that on the latter count, they needn't worry. Code will get written - and a lot of it will be very good. Writing code is a creative act, and the mysteries of how that act of creation kicks in, is one we're still working on. What we do know at the moment is that the answer most definitely is not "if no capital gets mobilized, nothing gets created"


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