Thursday, June 30, 2005

Thoughts on Microsoft

Every so often, I ponder about Microsoft. They're the reigning Evil Empire, and I'd lose my Slashdot geek cred if I didn't at least pretend to hate them. But strange things are happening, and I'm trying to make sense of them.

First, the status quo. Steve Ballmer, MS CEO, spoke in Australia recently, and is up to his usual sillyness. But: They've hired Daniel Robbins, founder of Gentoo (a Linux distro, of all things), into their "Linux and Open Source Software technology group". General counsel Brad Smith and platform guy Martin Taylor have been trying to talk and talking, respectively, to the O/S world. They released an RSS spec extension under a CC license, (after talking to the full spec's author and getting his endorsement, even). They've got a couple of projects up on SourceForge. They've let their employees blog, and say some pretty open things (i.e. Scoble, and Gretchen from HR).

So MS as a company is changing, largely from the bottom up, to, well, we're not sure what yet. If you look at Bill and Steve, they're still evil and clueless, but if you look around them, things are changing, and not so much because they're being dragged as because some of the lower ranks are taking the initiative.

If I'm able to draw any conclusions from this, it would be to paraphrase an idea that's apparently quite relevant to the medical and scientific communities: "progress happens one funeral at a time". In MS's case, it would seem like there's a good bit of old-school "1% evil, 99% hot gas" at the top of the company, and some good, talented, forward-thinking individuals beneath that would do some worthwhile things, and perhaps will, once things change at the top.

It's weird. I find myself actually wanting to like Microsoft, for the first time in a long while. I can't do it yet, by any means, but it seems a lot more possible lately that they could turn themselves around. Perhaps after a changing of the suits (starting with Bill and Steve)...

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