Interoperability – Four Points


Part 1 in the series: Interoperability


Let’s start with the real issue at hand – interoperability. Our customers care about interoperability. In fact, they rank it right up there with security and reliability when they consider what is most important to them. What’s more, our customers consistantly rate Microsoft’s products as the most interoperable in the industry. What is interesting, and somewhat troubling to me, is that they rate the products as the most interoperable, but not Microsoft itself. So there is a disconnect somewhere, and real issues to be addresed. We need to listen more carefully, and learn what we can do to improve in this area.  


It would seem that the discussion of interoperability not achieved solely by standards has caused some concern for Andy Updegrove – an adovocate for standards in general and for ODF in particular. I contend that if you hold the belief that interoperability stems from standards to the exclusion of other mechanisms then you are doing a disservice to anyone trying to address real computing concerns.


There are four methods that my friends (Tom Robertson and Scott Edwards, both called out in Andy’s blog posting) and I think about in helping Microsoft products to achieve interop. And yes Andy, this is reflected in the choice of words of our employees. Build it into the products by design, collaborate with others, standards, and IP licensing. Let’s take a closer look…



1) By Design: interop should be built into the products as a design feature. This is not a marekting ploy – it is a technical goal. Last I checked, you can connect Windows to dozens of other operating systems, tens of thousands of applications, it supports a POSIX subsystem to enable Unix-based apps to interoperate with apps on Windows, hundreds of thousands of devices and hardware configurations… With additinoal products like the Host Integration Server – we connect (yes, using standards-based protocols) to mainframes and the transactional systems supported there. But the product offers management features, extensible features, etc. that reach beyond the standards and enhance customers’ interoperability capability. The point is – any of the major software vendors are building interop into their products – it is mandatory to be useful in customers’ heterogenous environments.


2) Collaboration: this is the one that got Andy upset. Companies, at least those that stay in business, are responsive to their customers and partners. They are always seeking partnerships and/or structured relationships to improve their products’ opportunities in the market. It is not quite the nefarious spin that Andy puts on it in his blog. AOL, Yahoo, and MSN cusotmers were annoyed that there was not compatibility on IM. So the three companies came to agreement to make that work. Nokia wanted to put Microsoft’s ActiveSynch into Symbian to offer better mail solutions to their customer – so an agreement was made. Our customers also build J2 solutions and were quite pleased at the announced collaboration between JBOSS and Microsoft. All of these are examples of enhancing interop. None are nefarious. All are predicated on the desire to improve the useful life of commercial products. 


In fact, anyone watching the standards space as closely as Andy does should know that there are whole classes of “standards” that are formed based upon industry collaborations. Special Interest Groups frequently refer to their work-products as ‘standards.” Industry Consortia are arenas where commercial players with the ability to invest resources in the standards-setting process can come together to find consensus on technologies. Careful – they might be collaborating in those meetings. tsk tsk


3) Standards: Standards are descriptions of technologies constructed in environments that encourage participation and result in the opportunity for multiple, competing implementations. One of the less constructive arguments in the doc format debates of late has been the idea that there should only be one standard of doc format now that ODF has achieved ISO standardization. VHS/Beta, 802.11a/b/g, EISA/PCI, MPEG/H.264, USB/IEEE1394…there are many, many more. My point is that there should be competition in the market – and that advocating a decrease in choice seems counter productive. Market-based solutions will ultimately win out in these scenarios. Interoperability is improved by standardization, but not solved.


I had an interesting conversation with the CTO of a very large broadcast network who informed me that he has approximatly 20 different types of devices that support MPEG – yet no real interoperability between them due to the feature sets offered above and beyond the standard format. So there is an element of interop – but these device manufactures weren’t building it in by design (as specified above). hmmm.


4) Intellectual Property Licensing: this is the method that most of our detractors don’t like to hear us talk about. Yet the one that Bob Sutor should advocate the most heavily unless he wants to say that the $1B+ in revenues earned on patent licenses is somehow unfulfilling for him. But I digress – sorry. The fact is, by making patents available for licensing you are increasing the ability for others to utilize your technologies and that improves interop. Also, by licensing copyright (source code licensing) you can improve interop. Logo programs where trademarks are made available for use improve testing and use the marketing impact of the trademark as the carrot for interop work. All goodness in the end for the customer.


In the rest of Andy’s comments he refers to our efforts to discuss the issues around file formats as a big lie. I’m sorry that we don’t agree with your point of view, Sir – but it seems to be topping it a bit high given the overall tone of this debate so far.


For example, in a presentation to governments in Asia and around the world (uh oh, more of those nasty corporate talking points), IBM is advocating that governments “aggressively avoid trade secrets and proprietary software APIs and protocols: they will lock you in and take control away from you.” (<cough> Z/OS, <cough> Websphere, <cough> DB2). 


So, in short, the lines are being drawn on differences of opinions of the roles of standards, and that debate is healthy. To assume that because we don’t agree with your positions on the  document format debate there is some sort of massive lie is not up to the intellectual standards set in many of your other postings.

Comments (16)

  1. Swashbuckler says:

    > So there is a disconnect somewhere

    I suggest that the "disconnect" is that Microsoft’s products interoperate well with one another, but don’t interoperate as well with products from other vendors.

  2. Swashbuckler says:

    > Careful – they might be collaborating in those meetings. tsk tsk

    Just went thru a "conversations" class where they reminded us that sarcasm is generally not an effective way of communicating.  I can give you a reference for the source if you like?

    Damn, I may need to take the class again myself!

  3. jasonmatusow says:

    I agree – I should leave the sarcasm out. The more important point is about the disconnect. I look at it a bit differently. I think any honest evaluation of our support of other company’s technologies would show that we do that very well. The place where we don’t do as well in interop is enabling others to support our technologies.  

    There is a natural tension between interop and uniqueness in product development. At some point, as a commercial software provider, it is important that you have products that deliver unique value.

    I wouldn’t characterize this as a disconnect in the pejorative sense. I do look at it as an ongoing challange of finding the right balance.

    Jason

  4. Swashbuckler says:

    > At some point, as a commercial software provider, it is important

    > that you have products that deliver unique value.

    True enough.  However, where do you try to create that unique value?  Do you create it by competing against standards (e.g. a proprietary protocol instead of IP) or do you create it by adding value on top of standards?  If you want interoperability it must be the latter.

  5. orcmid says:

    After watching the efforts to frame Microsoft as malicious in doing ordinary work in developing interoperability and doing it well, I figured it must be corporate policy to pick your fights and, most of all, to keep your head down and just do the heavy lifting that’s required.

    It looks, from this and the preceding post, that I am now mistaken.  I wish you well.

    What I can’t figure out about the ODF business and initiatives like the proposed Minnesota procurement policy is the claim that Office Open XML-based products can never qualify and somehow ODF can when the specification and current implementations demonstrate every defect that is presumed as a barrier to anything Microsoft might provide.  

    But the one that gets me the most is that the Zip wrapper is an example of everything that ODF bigots claim is unacceptable as an open standard.  Yet it is incorporated in ODF without blinking.  At least Microsoft refers to a specific Zip specification and profiles the use of it that can be counted on.  

    I think you’ve got an uphill job.  I admire your effort to be rational and level-headed about it.

  6. orcmid says:

    PS: I think that a great place to demonstrate enabling others to use your technology is going to be around InfoCards. Kim Cameron and Mike Jones got a lot of creds for Microsoft coming out of last week’s Internet Identity Workshop, with people willing to build work-alikes and others hoping to be able to federate into what is looking like a winner.

  7. Swashbuckler says:

    > What I can’t figure out about the ODF business and

    > initiatives like the proposed Minnesota procurement policy

    > is the claim that Office Open XML-based products can never

    > qualify

    Hmmm, can’t say I’ve ever heard that before.

    > But the one that gets me the most is that the Zip wrapper

    > is an example of everything that ODF bigots claim is

    > unacceptable as an open standard.

    I think what you’re saying is that the ODF folks think that every standard must be developed in a collaborative process.  If that is what you’re saying, then I think you’re wrong.

  8. Wesley Parish says:

    "The place where we don’t do as well in interop is enabling others to support our technologies."

    That’s one of the most honest and perceptive remarks on Microsoft and Interoperability I’ve come across in ages.  Thanks for that.

    What I would like to see Microsoft do – and I am being very, very specific, and I think I speak for a lot more people than merely myself when I ask this – is release a beta of msh.exe, aka Monad and PowerShell, under the Microsoft Community License, so it can be ported to Linux, *BSD and OpenSolaris amongst others, and have an OpenSSH back-end tacked on, so us Un*x users who are in charge of Microsoft Windows networks, can manage them more easily and with much greater chance of success.

  9. jasonmatusow says:

    Thanks for the post Wesley – I’ll pass it along to the right folks. Can’t say what action (or not) they will take, but I’ll pass it along.

    Jason

  10. Jason Matusow, Microsoft’s Shared Source honcho, is starting a series on interoperability, here and here, for starters. The enterprise bids fair to be &quot;a frank exchange of views,&quot; as the diplomats say. See the comment on Jason’s first post,

  11. brent's blog says:

    We often discuss interoperability in terms of technology, but we must be careful not to forget that it…

  12. brent's blog says:

    Writing in from Berlin, where I just saw some great news on the wire…We often discuss interoperability…

  13. Interoperability is something I have blogged about in the past. It is an issue which customers are now…

  14. My last blog posting was in a tone that was a bit too snarky for my tastes. I was writing late, and tired

  15. Today Microsoft made a substantive announcement about interoperability and I’d like to discuss the elements

  16. Dating says:

    Part 1 in the series: Interoperability Let’s start with the real issue at hand – interoperability. Our customers care about interoperability. In fact, they rank it right up there with security and reliability when they consider what is most important