Me and Microsoft, Part I

Executive summary: Had dinner the other night with Jim Allchin and some other wonderful folks. We talked broadly about open source, Internet Explorer and Windows, Window Media Center, identity management and passport and widely about DRM and how effed the whole system is. And though there were certainly MSFT-friendlies around the table, it was refreshingly not a total MSFT lovefest. Details follow. Part 1 in a series of a couple.

Me and MicrosoftSo I don’t think I had expected to really ever sit down for dinner with the guy who’s responsible for Windows Vista (his official title is Co-President, Platforms Products & Services Division). I mean, who am I in the grand scheme of things? Yet that’s the situation that I found myself in on Thursday, along with Make maker Phillip Torrone and his long-distance ex-MSFT wife Beth Goza, Tony Gentile of Healthline.com, Tara my co-conspirator (she finagled me an invite), Linda the organizer from Waggener Edstrom, Neil Charney of the underarm plasma 40″, Thomas Hawk ( and #655 on ‘rati), Jason Garms who curiously could have fit in on the set of Newsies (owing to his houndstooth jacket), Mena Trott, who I first encountered in Paris ($#!@% — I keed, I keed!) and John Tokash with two Passports.

As introductions were made around the table, I prepared for what I knew would be my outing — I didn’t know whether to expect gasps or sidelong glances… or perhaps even sympathetic eyes (“Poor chap, doesn’t he know that IE has 90% of desktops covered? What’s there to do with yet another browser?”). I began:

Uh, I’m Chris Messina. I work on an open-source browser called Flock and I, uhm, am interested in bringing things like usability, design, fashion to open source to make it more palatable for wider audiences… and I help co-organize and evangelize this event called Bar Camp and something else called Mash Pit.

Cat was out of the bag and no slings nor arrows had been flung. In fact, I felt quite welcome and in good company after all. Huh. All fizzled up for nothing. Ok.

So then Linda explained the dinner — apologized for Robert not being able to make it (no worries, mate) — and for arriving a little late themselves. (Ah, to work for one of the most powerful organizations in the world and to apologize for being late; yes, civilization has advanced some!)

Wine all around and the food started to arrive as conversations got underway. I can’t remember all that was said, but there are a few notable points that stuck with me.

First, there are some very interesting and weird presumptions about “open source people” which are probably as unfair as the generalizations many people make about MSFT folks. For example, Jim acknowledged that they had learned a few things from the open source community that had changed their approach to the Windows VISTA beta program — opting to be more open, transparent and agile, attempting for once to release earlier and more often. Of course this is a great thing for Microsoft and all the folks who run Windows since ideally this could mean that the product they ship will be of higher quality and more accurately reflect the needs or desires of the user community. We’ll see, but what was interesting after revealing this, was what he said directly to me, “…even though that might not be as open as you might like, we are learning.”

I was floored. I mean, wow, ok… I’m obviously an open source enthusiast and proponent, but I wouldn’t want MSFT to go in this direction to appease anyone or score points (of course it’s not that simple, but still). That’s not really the point of being open source, anyway. I’m really not an open source/free software zealot. Cripes, I’m from New Hampshire where our motto is Live free or die! Far be it for me to tell you what to do!

I mean, as anyone who’s tried to go from proprietary to open source can tell you, it’s not about just opening up your code and voila! a million worker bees will swarm to help you with your code! Far from it. I mean, first of all, you’ve got to want to be open source, in everything you do — and to take the good with the bad, the ugly with the magnificent. You can’t do it for anyone but yourself, and you’ve really got to believe in its superiority as a development and tool-building philosophy.

Still, it’s still promising to see that they’re observing what’s going on around them — and seemingly learning what the F/LOSS communities have for so long espoused and practiced.

To be continued . . .

. . .

11 thoughts on “Me and Microsoft, Part I”

  1. Well, I dont think that Microsoft is ever going to go open source with their software. Even though they may be learling from open source software, doesnt mean that they stand a chance in the market of good software. You can’t be part open source, its all or nothing. I think Microsoft will have to face this eventually and then it will be time to sink or swim!

  2. Interesting article/dinner, chris!
    i hope this actually eases people’s notions of microsoft as a corporation. they are living/breathing and notice things in the world just as you and i do. i’m sure there is someone at microsoft that discovered flock early on and mentioned it/ discusses at length about it with their crew.
    i’m guessing the reason they didn’t chomp on you or rip you to pieces for being an opensource freak was because they were jealous. sure they’ve got colleagues to help them research, write code for them, and on and on, but for many people we have a kind eye towards a small group of people who fly in the face of large corps in front of the whole world and make a change. a change in the way the world browses.
    and like i said, i’m sure redmond took notice a while back…

    good luck, chris, and here’s to you (barcamp chug)!

  3. Hey Luke, a interesting anecdote: every time I see Scoble he likes to tell me that he gave Bill Gates a six minute demo of Flock as a demonstration of “what’s going on out there”… So yes, I would say that Microsoft has some awareness of us… ;)

  4. Aw crap. I thought it was going to be about Flock being acquired by Microsoft or sumthin. BTW, “Linda the organizer from ?”. Where are the pics?

  5. Good ol’ scoble, eh?
    Ah ha! I wonder if he can swing some of bill’s philanthropy towards you guys to form the flock trust foundation. “sponsoring interface design and web usability in community application designers with small grants for startups” or some such shit.

    get on it, scobe!

  6. oh, yeah, before you come back on that one, i AM just like everyone else. i don’t like gates, but i like his money.
    not true for me.

    actually, i have heard no news of Jobs donating to a charity or foundation, especially one in his own name, you?
    I think bill has his good qualities. i’ve been taught to have a distasteful attitude by my peers towards bill, but when it comes right down to it, he does a lot of good things for the world.

    sorry. rambling.

  7. >>actually, i have heard no news of Jobs donating to a charity or foundation, especially one in his own name, you?

    Perhaps Jobs follows the biblical code of giving: “don’t let the right hand know what the left is doing” and not declareing your good deeds to everyone for pats on the back. Better check your facts before you make statements like that.

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