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TechWeb: Embrace open source, retiring Microsoft exec urges

By Mitch Wagner

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(TechWeb) -- A retiring Microsoft executive delivered a kick in the pants to his former employer, warning in a version of his resignation letter that he posted to the Internet that Microsoft is in danger of being swept away by open source.

Microsoft faces the same embrace-or-be-destroyed alternatives with open source that it faced with the Internet years ago, David Stutz said, Microsoft's group program manager for the Shared Source Common Language Initiative until his recent retirement.

"Stop looking over your shoulder and invent something!" Stutz said in the letter.

He also warned, "Recovering from current external perceptions of Microsoft as a paranoid, untrustworthy, greedy, petty, and politically inept organization will take years."

Surprisingly, Microsoft said it agrees with much of Stutz's vision of the future.

"Microsoft is in agreement with much of the position that David has of the future. But Microsoft believes that breakthroughs will come mostly through commercial software companies, like Microsoft," a company spokeswoman said.

Retiring Microsoft executives commonly write letters about what they believe the vendor is doing right and wrong, the spokeswoman said. Stutz's is unusual in that he chose to publish his-or, rather a self-described "sanitized version" of his letter-to the Internet.

The Common Language Initiative is software designed to allow applications written in different languages to interoperate; Stutz headed up development of a version of the CLI for FreeBSD. Microsoft's Shared Source program is designed as an alternative to open source; under the program, licensees can inspect source code for Microsoft software-but unlike with open source, licensees can't modify or distribute the source code.

Microsoft faces the ongoing obsolescence of the shrink-wrap PC software market, in favor of the Internet as the platform for software, Stutz said.

"During this period, most core Microsoft products missed the Internet wave, even while claiming to be leading the parade," he said. Office is still document-centric, Windows is still PC-centric, and "Microsoft developer tools have yet to embrace the loosely coupled mindset that today's leading edge developers apply to work and play," Stutz said.

Open source has emerged as an alternative, albeit one that is "often inferior" to Microsoft software, which is locked into its PC-centric mode, Stutz said. "Microsoft still builds the world's best client software, but the biggest opportunity is no longer the client. It still commands the biggest margin, but networked software will eventually eclipse client-only software," Stutz said.

"As the quality of this software improves, there will be less and less reason to pay for core software-only assets that have become stylized categories over the years," Stutz said. "Microsoft sells Office (the suite) while people may only need a small part of Word or a bit of Access. Microsoft sells Windows (the platform) but a small org might just need a Web site or a file server. It no longer fits Microsoft's business model to have many individual offerings and to innovate with new application software. Unfortunately, this is exactly where free software excels and is making inroads. One-size-fits-all, one-app-is-all-you-need, one-API-and-damn-the-torpedoes has turned out to be an imperfect strategy for the long haul."

He also said, "Microsoft must survive and prosper by learning from the open-source software movement and by borrowing from and improving its techniques. Open-source software is as large and powerful a wave as the Internet was, and is rapidly accreting into a legitimate alternative to Windows. It can and should be harnessed." Simply fighting open source through "litigation and proprietary protocols" is a strategy for failure, Stutz said.

© 2003 CMP Media LLC

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