Posted by James Utzschneider
General Manager, Sales, Marketing and Services Group

My name is James Utzschneider, and I work in Microsoft’s Sales, Marketing, and Services Group leading a team responsible for worldwide marketing efforts around open source and emerging technologies.  Today we are kicking off what we hope will be an ongoing dialogue on observations and insights from people inside and outside our company on the topic of Microsoft and “Openness”.

Why are we doing this now?  In my 15 years with Microsoft, this is certainly one of the most interesting times the tech industry has seen in the area of standards, interoperability and open source -- and we are excited to share our perspective on these topics.

Just look at some of the things that are happening right now. You have vendors fighting over who has the most “open” HTML 5 implementation. You have people from Mozilla saying that out of the big vendors only Microsoft gets web standards. You have Steve Jobs saying when that when people hear the word open, they think Windows. There are movements around Open Government, Open Data, Open Web, even Open Knowledge. Is something open because it’s a standard? Or because it uses open source? Or if it is free of patents? Or if it is freely available on the web? Or if it is used by everyone with published APIs? Or if a company simply says it’s open?

In many ways the industry was so much easier to deal with when the question was simply “are you open or closed?” But now things are undoubtedly more convoluted if you are looking for a simple view of the world.

Part of this confusion stems from the practice of big technology vendors using open source and standards marketing to complement, market and extend their proprietary and profit-making products and services. Take Apple, for example, which uses open source in their operating systems but sells iPads, iMacs, and iPhones as “closed” systems at a premium price. Another, VMware, buys Spring as a developer and application framework on top of their proprietary virtualization franchise. Oracle also buys important open source franchises and has been known to alienate members of these communities. IBM supports Linux, Eclipse, and Apache (sometimes) but won’t use open source for their mainframe or middleware franchises. Even Google, which participates in many open source projects, bypasses the community model when it comes to building Android (which for many is one of the main benefits for doing open source) and will likely never open up the search and ad monetization algorithms that sit behind their firewall.

It’s all logical, and in many cases, makes good business sense for big companies to work this way.  But from an industry rhetoric perspective it’s hard to tell if all of this behavior means that closed is the new open or if open is the new closed.

And then there is Microsoft.

Unfortunately many people who work in our industry still hold views of Microsoft that were shaped by events from over a decade ago -- including the antitrust litigation, the browser wars with Netscape, and the fight between Linux and Windows on the server – but as a company we’ve moved on.  The key point we want to make on this topic is that we’ve changed as a company and have become more open in terms of the work we do supporting standards and integrating with open source projects around the world. We’ll use this space to make this case moving forward.

We’re not sure if any big technology vendor will ever be able to be perfectly “open” – and based on what we are seeing now, I am not sure if I even know what that would mean. But in the world of today’s web I am pretty sure that no company can survive being completely closed.