Open Choice Software

As the product manager for, a big part of my job is to listen to Windows and .NET developers and other IT professionals. Microsoft is actively investing in gotdotnet and I have the good fortune to be its eyes and ears. One of the things that I’ve been hearing is that you don’t feel that you have sufficient contact with your customers and other stakeholders during the development process. I feel your pain. As a former member of the Visual Studio development team, I yearned for the chance to tell customers about all the cool things I was working on in realtime and to solicit their feedback directly. I coveted the ability of some of my peers outside the firewall, particularly open source software (OSS) developers to engage in intimate and ongoing conversations with customers and partners who shared my objectives and passion. And then I broke out of the echo chamber and started this weblog. It was a small thing but it rocked my world.

I guess we’re all stuck in an echo chamber of our own making. Certainly, OSS developers have their own echo chambers to contend with. And to that point, gotdotnet is living proof that Microsoft is not antithetical to OSS or customer-collaborative development and is furthermore committed to helping you break out of your own echo chamber. If you happen to think that Microsoft eschews OSS, you’re not alone. Self-indulgent OSS extremists of the kind that you’ll find at Slashdot seem to have convinced the entire world that this is true. Whereas you won’t find many Microsoft developers who are active in open source projects (and for darned good reasons!), that doesn’t mean Microsoft cares, one way or another, how the software applications that run on our platforms are built. In fact, the primary purpose of gotdotnet Workspaces is to enable Windows and .NET developers to participate in open and shared source projects.

OSS is a pretty revolutionary idea that has currency and potential in a post-modern, post-materialistic world but there are plenty of alternative software development models that enable you to nurture a close customer connection without sacrificing your paycheck at the GPL alter. There are a number of projects on Gotdotnet like the RJS.PopCalendar that are developed offline, uploaded as a user sample over and over again, users comment on its functionality, and the developer who owns it incorporates their feedback into future releases. It’s feedback-driven development. Users don’t necessarily see the code (although you can with RJS.PopCalendar) but even if it’s not, the outcome can be and is often the same: great software! Half-opened applications are enlived by the same ongoing conversation between developer and user as pure OSS applications.  It is a beautiful thing and I constantly lament the fact that we have no universal label by which to describe this development model.

Customer-collaborative development needs a catchy name. Ideas?

My proposal: Open Choice Software
Usage in context: Open choice software is open but only to the extent its owner chooses.
Acronym: OCS… only overload I can think of is Officer Candidate School. Hm, sufficiently distant. ‘OCS is a proving ground for developers’. That works… What do you think?

Comments (3)

  1. Louis Parks says:

    I’ve read your blog for more than a year and have generally found it a good source of information. It doesn’t sounds like your characterization of Microsoft in this post is very accurrate. It sounds like spinning "the softer side of Microsoft" that is in stark contrast to earlier statements.

    "If you happen to think that Microsoft eschews OSS, you’re not alone. Self-indulgent OSS extremists of the kind that you’ll find at Slashdot seem to have convinced the entire world that this is true."

    This says to me, "other people say we hate OSS, but it’s not true" That, to me, is the implication. A little later you yourself attack the GPL, which is one of the primary OSS licenses. So, are you sure it’s just Slashdot and OSS extremists that gave Microsoft the reputation it has?

    Perhaps it is comments like yours in this post regarding the GPL? Perhaps it is comments of the past from Gates and Balmer about the viral GPL and the irony of GPL’ed software calling itself open? Perhaps, just perhaps, Microsoft brought this on itself?

    I personally have intense disdain for OSS and GPL in particulary. However, I’m annoyed when I see folks try to spin Microsoft as an OSS friendly company when it is extremely clear that it is not. Just as it is hypocritical of IBM to say it loves OSS yet hasn’t open sourced one of its major products like DB/2, AIX, or WebSphere, it is hypocritical of Microsoft to say it is OSS friendly when not one of its major products are OSS’ed. Again, I don’t see any reason for Microsoft to OSS its stuff, but I also don’t think that it should pretend to like or embrace what its actions indicate it despises.

  2. MSDNArchive says:

    Well said, Louis. I agree that it would be hypocritical to say that Microsoft is OSS friendly. It might be more appropriate to say that we’re OSS neutral and OCS-friendly. 😉

    I don’t share your intense disdain for OSS writ large but I do agree with you on GPL, which is more persistent and subversive a threat to privately-held intellectual property (in the form of source code) than squatters are to privately held real estate in a society that has embraced pure Lockean Property Law. On a philosophical level, I agree with many aspects of Lockean property law (which basically says: use it, improve it, or lose it to somebody who will). Philosophically, I do not agree with GPL, which basically says: if you look through a knot hole in my fence and see me ploughing my fields and you use your property for farming too, you have to tear down your fence and share the use of your property with me forever.

    What does GPL mean in the real world? Imagine you’re a top comp sci graduate interviewing at Apple for a position on their core kernel team. By your last interview of the day, it’s pretty clear that they’re going to make you an offer. The interviewer asks, ‘How much experience do you have with Linux?’ ‘Enough to know I prefer Mac’, you respond, ‘I installed a Red Hat build a few months back, played around, and dumped it.’ ‘What did you think of the kernel code?’ the interviewer asks. ‘Pretty tight but I can do better.’ The interviewer abruptly ends the interview, wishes you good luck, and ushers you out of the building. You never hear back from Apple. Why? I dunno. I’m not a lawyer…