Some people think I bash Microsoft a lot on this blog, and maybe that’s true, but I don’t think I ever do it unfairly. To prove that I don’t just comment on the bad stuff, here’s a major piece of positive news about the software behemoth: Microsoft appears to have fixed the flaws in the Open Specification Promise (OSP).
The major flaw in the OSP when it was originally announced is that the promise not to sue people who developed upon or used Microsoft protocols and formats extended only to those who operated non-commercially. This of course made the whole OSP basically useless, because the primary area where people want to inter-operate with Microsoft is in the enterprise, where, rather unfortunately, most companies do not work for free. Most enterprises are not particularly happy about engaging the services of purely voluntary organisations, at least in visible or critical areas, because of the potential exposure to core business functions; they need support contracts, even if in practice they don’t strictly need or use them - I’m sure that I’m not the only person at the sharp end of getting problems resolved who ended up getting good answers faster from nonprofit communities rather than official support channels.
Anyway, all of a sudden and with little fanfare Microsoft appears to have addressed this; on Friday they updated the OSP to remove the non-commercial clause. The surprising bit is perhaps not that they realised it was broken (I’m sure the beleaguered pro-open source elements in the company knew this from the start), but that the upper echelons allowed them to fix it. The rhetoric spouted by the likes of Ballmer does not gel with this kind of move, and even the recent high water mark of Ballmer committing MS to being more open had the look of a man who had a gun to his back, and it didn’t take long for him to start beating his drum about patents again after that. I’ve been skeptical the action on the ground would be free from gotchas or caveats, and the original OSP certainly reinforced this. No longer.
With this change, Microsoft has made a significant step in the right direction. Companies deploying & supporting the likes of Samba, OpenOffice & POI have operated under something of a cloud until now, glancing nervously over their shoulders in fear of suddenly becoming a target for the three hundred pound gorrilla beating its chest about patents and Linux, and customers felt the anxiety too I’m sure - leading to less credibility being afforded to those kinds of alternatives. If MS stay true to this agreement it really does open opportunities for better competition in the commercial sector, which can only be a good thing for customers. Keep this kind of practical change up Microsoft, and I might even start liking you again. Just get rid of that relic of 1980’s capitalism you have at your helm 😉