Monday, April 09, 2007

You can't get away from 'it'

So, as might have been evident from my past few posts, I attended Microsoft's Technology Summit from March 26th to the 28th. I posted a blogroll a few posts below so that you can see what other attendees blogged on live, and on some of their feedback. I also posted a link to an interview at their Open Source Labs (full disclaimer: my trip was paid for). But in this post, what I want to do is take a slightly higher-level look at what I think MS was trying to achieve with this summit. In its most basic form, it was to get the word out to technologists about what they were up to. Yes, its all smoke and mirrors, but in any case, its worth commenting on.

Some problems: First, this attempt at communication took place in a form which too many attendees at the summit felt was too half-duplex. Too much talking by Microsoft folks, and not enough amongst the attendees, (or listening to them), or facilitating a structure that allowed for more discussion. All of this got said to MS on the second day itself. Secondly (related to the first), part of MS's agenda at this summit appeared to be to present a kindler, gentler face to that part of the FOSS community they think they can do business with: "FOSS - FSF zealots" was the subset MS seemed to want to work with. The only problem with this approach was that often the way in which MS folks spoke seemed to indicate that any discussion of FOSS outside of software engineering or business models (and within that they only seemed to want to talk of revenue streams as being exclusively license-sale driven) makes them nervous as it might be what those "open-source philosophers" talk about. While I can understand the standard reason for being so leery ("like, we might get infected by left-field ideas") surely, MS cannot imagine that they can successfully co-opt FOSS without attempting to tackle adequately that part of FOSS ideology that is not covered by software engineering or business models. Or can they? Related to this was a question that I put to folks at MS's open source labs: do they plan to contribute to FOSS projects? It might seem wierd to them, but ultimately, if MS wants to learn about what makes FOSS tick, they'll have to jump in head-first.


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