Peter, IMHO being funded by Microsoft is neither inconsistent with advocating Open Data nor with advocating Open Source. Microsoft isn’t evil – it’s just increasingly irrelevant.
The marketplace is currently dealing Microsoft what it deserves. Its customers now have choices like never before and they’re increasingly saying “no” to overdesigned products, planned obsolescence, and the general arrogance and disinterest in customers that monopoly breeds.
One of the things Microsoft’s former customers are turning to is a Web-centric way of working. Google docs is one example, but companies like 37signals, Firewheel Design, and a host of others are showing that the number of situations in which a desktop application is necessary is smaller than many would have predicted. Many of them charge for their services and a good number are profitable. Nothing wrong with that.
As long as Microsoft’s money is there, I’d take it without the slightest reservation. But I’d also try to make sure that what I’m being paid to do had some relevance to people doing their work on the Web.
Very much my own feelings as far as Microsoft Corporation is concerned. At school we used to sing “like earth’s proud empires pass away” and this holds well for the ICT industry. The exciting thing about writing compoter systems is that’s it’s possible to create smethign where you can see the contribution to change – albeit it slight. When working in the W3C XML group we could see how this was going to change the world – and interestingly some people in MS (e.g. Jean Paoli) understood that at a very early stage. Whatever else I have MS in part (along with Jon Bosak/SUN) to thank for the emergence of XML.
MS has to reinvent itself. I remember MS’s challenge to IBM – how could IBM possibly fall from grace? But in the mid 90’s it wa an ailing company. Now MS is going through the same process, being challenged by Google. The process will continue 10 years down the line…
I’m working with MS Research. I’m not exactly sure what part MS Research plays wrt. the main company. That’s true of many research divisions of companies. It’s probably clearer in traditional medicinal chemistry (where I worked) in that the drugs then had to come through the system. Now it may be diifferent. The same with Unilever Research (who now pay me). Companies don’t necessarily want their RDs to create new products – or even new ideas for products. Many want them to keep them connected and agile in an ever changing world. To link into universities and complementary businesses. To funnel the best graduates into their company.
The people in MSR with whom I work know the company has to change. They’re headed by Tony Hey who pioneered the eScience (== cyberinfrastructure) program in UK. And one major change – at least in MSR – is the need to espouse Open approaches. To do that they need a window onto that world – Open Source, Open Data, Open Standards, Open Access. MSR (sic) is involved in sponsoring all of these. They are members of Apache.
Critics may say that this is an inexpensive way of buying goodwill in a world which has shown them that monopolies – and especially arrogant monpolies – will not always prosper. History will tell. But if MSR is going to change it is going to need to do the Open things that will be a amjor part of the future. If so, they are going about it constructively.
Is our work with MS relevant? I try extremely hard to make it so. We have had to work in a .NET environment and coming from our Open Java Blue Obelisk community that has been very painful. There’s been a lot to learn which has been necessary just so we can code collaboratively.
Has it been worth it? We are 9 months in and it’s too early to say. We (through Joe Townsend) are fairly up to speed with .NET/WPF/XAML etc. The .NET environment is (I think) ultimately a lot better for creating graphics than Swing (which has cost me a lot of blood). I like the integration of WPF with XAML so that many aspects of screen display can be created though external XML. Is that better than the newer GUIs coming from the Web-centric players? No opinion yet.
There’s been a major benefit in working in a fully XML-compliant environment, and with people who are as enthusiastic as us. Chem4Word is completely based on XML both at the chemical end and on the screen. That leads to a much higher semantic coherence than traditional legacy systems where there is transduction from legacy to internal data structure and back, In C4W there is only one representation of the chemistry…
But I am getting ahead. We’ll be telling you more later about the details and how we want to explore collaboration.
Microsoft may have owned our bodies – companies like Google will end up owning our soul. We need constant vigilance.