Slashdot Comment Responses #4 (Contests, Free Software Distribution, Halloween, and More)

This is the 4th of 5 planned entries in response to comments I’ve received because of this post. I’m starting to run out of themes to cover. This post looks at some of the more interesting suggestions and responses that didn’t fall into the other buckets I’ve covered already. The next post will highlight some of the positive reactions I saw from my post, but I’m sure less people will read that one. Again, I’d like to thank everyone who left great comments and I hope some of you stuck around to read my responses.

Is cost the only draw for OSS Software?

Mitch says “The big draw to Free/Open Source (F/OSS) is cost of entry. I can download an entire environment, operating system and server processes, and get started. What you propose requires me to buy Windows, then buy Visual Studio. And THEN I can get started? The average teenager will not be interested OR capable to pony up that dough. And when they hear of a free alternative, they will not be interested in commercial software (even if you give it to them), because they know that someday they will have to pay the piper...”

Certainly price can play a role in determining ones choice of a software environment. I don’t want to start a war over the whole TCO struggle, so let’s take your scenario of the hobbyist teenager learning to code. Realistically most teenagers probably get a computer that is bought for them at the store that comes with a Windows OS. This cost was probably not much more than if they had to buy the hardware and assemble a Linux PC. With VS 2005 we will have the Express SKU’s of Visual Studio. For a hobbyist, as you describe, the cost will be a non-issue and they can start programming immediately with some of the most powerful IDE tools out there. Sure, there will always be the totally GPL/Free as in beer (aside from hardware) route now available, but as I’ve said before I think we can co-exist and provide the added value that will make them want to stay with windows and VS long term because of the platform.

Open Competitions for Shared Applications

Daniel Says: “Microsoft with its extra billions of cash and its extreme profit image should have the courage to behave consistently. Instead of mimicking others, it could organize open competition for original applications.”

You mean like this, this, or this? J Yup, I think that this is a good idea too. I think we should be extending what we are already doing to encourage more original and shared development on our platforms. I do worry though how far this could be taken; it could backlash and be seen as pure bribery.

Leverage/License our Patent Portfolio

Richard Tallent Says “Leverage MS's patent portfolio by offering open patent licenses on a large number of them, with the proviso of those patents being applied to software that uses MS operating systems. Many patents sitting on the shelf, if applied, would increase the quality of Windows software and would give ISVs a better comfort level when their Windows apps happen to compete or overlap with MS's own offerings. Of course, the Linux crowd wins nothing here, but Windows developers certainly do.”

Not sure if we do anything in this space, but it’s an interesting idea to selectively open up our patent library to ISV’s or people we share Windows Source with to enable them to be quicker to market with good ideas without fear we’ll sue them afterwards.

Halloween

A number of people sent me this link and some have even accused me or being part of some larger grand scheme to co-opt and kill off the OSS movement by getting in good then using classic embrace and extend techniques. Yes, I have since read the Halloween documents. As far as I know I’m not part of some larger plan to destroy the OSS movement and I’ve never been in a dark smoky room where someone says “Destroy all competitors!!!!” followed by maniacal laughter and the hashing of large conspiracies. Maybe I haven’t been here long enough.

I am simply and individual that genuinely believes there are bridges to be built and some measure of diplomacy to be had on both sides that could learn from each other. What I learned from reading the Halloween document is that both sides are still a long way off from that. It’s FUD, Anti-FUD, rumors, and speculation on both sides.

 

Getting the Facts

Others pointed to the “Get the Facts” advertising campaign run by Microsoft that targets sites generally dedicated to the open competitors in our Marketplace. I don’t work in marketing, but in general, since working at Microsoft I’ve been disappointed with our ads and very jealous of ads from other companies like Sun, Apple, or IBM. Scoble hits on a few of the nails that bother me here and here. Really I’m disappointed we don't seem to try and spread the word of what new features exist from one version to the other and why anyone should use Office 11 over Office 10. These ads are just another example. I’d rather we spend the money and point people to other people or groups at Microsoft that are making a difference. If the site is security focused, for example, point them to Michael Howard and let people read the real scope from one of the guys leading the change to a more security focused Microsoft.

Don’t Just Start, Participate

Another viewpoint offered by some is that we simply allow and encourage our developers to spend time contributing to existing solutions on sites like Gotdotnet or Codeproject.

BillR Says “Little things come to mind, like would you allow developers to collaborate via IRC/jabber/etc, or is MSN the only avenue possible? Stuff like this matters.”

Benjamin SaysWindows-oriented open source sites like codeguru, codeproject etc are a big asset for MS, which can otherwise be a difficult environment to get started in and to find small free components in. MS should work with those sites, adding expertise (answering 'how do I...' questions) and resources (helping turn some of those useful free components into enterprise-grade ones). Everyone would benefit.
Unfortunately, MS has historically tended to work _against_ such efforts (remember SysInternals and NTFS). The days when this sort of tactic could work for anybody other than IBM are now over.
So, MS, why not assign a few developer man-hours to sifting through codeproject, answering and fixing, and see if a good open-source project emerges from any of the half-a-projects they have there?”

Highlighting and drawing external (and internal) attention to these efforts is one of the main reasons I started the Powertoys blog. I do, also believe after reading your comments, that our teams should have guidelines that enable our developers to feel confident doing this sort of work on external projects as an opportunity for them to interact with the developer community rather than just enabling them to start their own projects. Good ideas.

Gotdotnet VS. Sourceforge

Chris Says: “An important part in any plan to promote open source or better community of code sharing requires good infrastructure. SourceForge.NET is years ahead of GotDotNet.com.
For some time I have felt the major shortcoming in Microsoft's strategy has not been to bolster GDN and advertise it. GDN is a great tool, but is notoriously slow and it's not a surprise to find it unavailable.”

 

There are many internally that also share your frustration with the Gotdotnet workspaces. I own at least 6 of them and I’m always debating moving them to Sourceforge and will probably follow through on that soon. Another option for MS is to just leverage and partner more with Sourceforge. Why build our own solution rather than playing nice with the market leader?

Distributing Windows Shared and Open Source Projects

MSB Says: “Aside from releasing its own software as open source I think Microsoft should start distributing open source. There are lots of open source packages for Windows. Why doesn't Microsoft ship a selection of software comparable to what you get with a Linux distro? They could do so at almost no additional cost. ”

Lets assume we don’t pre-load windows machines with all this stuff or ship the community driven software on the actual Windows or Visual Studio CD…

How would you like to see us aid in the distribution? An online catalog? A Free CD given away at shows of the best community software? I think it’s a good idea to investigate, but I would love more feedback about how this should work. I should probably have a whole other entry about how software would be nominated or qualify for this selection.

That’s all for now… enjoy!