I just got back from Microsoft’s Servers and Tools Business (SBT) summit in Orlando. There is plenty to digest. The story that really sticks in my mind though concerns Sam Ramji, director Platform Strategy, and his efforts to ensure better interoperability at the firm.
Sam is the guy, in case you aren’t familiar with him, that announced a Microsoft takeover of Eclipse at EclipseCon 2008 earlier this year. So he clearly has a sense of humor. That said, Sam is crazy serious when it comes to advocating the open mindset at Microsoft, which means he takes a lot of heat from both sides- as Info2 puts it he wears asbestos pants. Sam told us about a recent example of his internal standards work.
His open source lab had been doing some testing of the Asterisk open source PBX and SIP Server, when they found out that the software didn’t work with Microsoft’s SIP softphone. So Sam walks into a design review meeting with Ray Ozzie and representatives of Microsoft Unified Communications (UC) group and asks why Microsoft isn’t supporting SIP. The UC people not surprisingly push back.
But Sam has gone deep in testing- its his job after all to help Microsoft get the facts. Frankly he would get served a new one if he wasn’t totally on top of the issues. It turns out the phone doesn’t work with Asterisk, because the UC team has decided to add some “security extensions” to the standard SIP protocol. Un huh… Open source people will be nodding sagely now, or perhaps spitting blood. Ozzie apparently thought about this for a bit and then simply pointed to a phone jack in the wall and said:
“Its a copper wire. How secure is that?”
Debate over. The UC had to go back to the drawing board. Perhaps surprisingly this example is not an isolated case. Sam also led efforts to create a bridge between Microsoft and the Samba open source file and print server team. Today Microsoft provides the SAMBA community with free MSDN licenses for compatibility testing, bug testing, and now openly sends engineers to SAMBA conferences to help advance the state of the art.
Am I saying that everything is golden now, and Microsoft has turned into an open standards bigot company? Absolutely not. Try using Sharepoint with a non-Microsoft browser, for example. Come on Sharepoint team your product is solid – please allow IE to compete on the basis of implementation. Nobody, least of all Microsoft, will benefit if Mac and Linux users are excluded from Sharepoint conversations. An example- RedMonk and Freeform Dynamics, another open source analysis firm, want to collaborate on some projects, but Freeform is a Sharepoint shop which means neither Stephen (Linux) nor Cote (Mac) nor our newest employee Tom Raftery (Mac) can actually use their collaboration tools. The upshot - we’ll find an open platform to use instead, even if its just something as simple as PBwiki.
Frankly It is good to know that Sam is there in Redmond, working 18 hour days, providing some balance and pushback when Microsoft product teams make decisions that might hurt interoperability. He is an asset. If you have specific concerns about interop between an open source project and a Microsoft product then Sam is the guy to go to.
disclosure: we have done some client work with Sam before, and almost certainly will again.