There has been something nagging me in all the deals Microsoft has been doing deals with Novell, Xandros, Linspire, and friends – something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It wasn’t until Mark’s post and Matt’s comment on it kicked some synapse into gear. The bit that bothers me is the so called interoperability work that is included in the agreements.
The thing is if they want interoperability there is no need to go around signing agreements and handing over cash – just assign some engineers to OpenOffice.org and Samba and/or make sure the specifications for OpenXML and CIFS are complete, and without licence or implementation restrictions, and make the necessary patent grants. In fact so long as the specs, licences, and patent grants are done right you probably don’t even need to worry about assigning engineers – other folks will be motivated enough to do the interop work for you.
Organisationally it’s dead easy to get into interoperability with open-source projects – sure there will be technical hurdles but if you do things in the open that’s all you have to worry about – no worrying with contracts, payments, legal maneuvering, PR, etc.
Proprietary companies make a big fuss about these sort of agreements because when you develop stuff on your own behind closed doors it’s a big deal to sort through all the organisational, legal, and financial angst around opening up and sharing with some other proprietary company.