Should I work with Microsoft?

Dictated because of a slightly dodgy keyboard into Arcturus

I have had two responses to my post about Bio med central and their 10 year celebration at which they are honouring open data. The responses highlight and comment on the fact that Microsoft is a sponsor of the occasion.

Twitter Trackbacks for Biomed Central and Microsoft honour Open Data – oh look, Microsoft trying to snuggle up to openness again… #opendata [] on says:

May 8, 2010 at 8:58 am  (Edit)

; glynmoodyHighly Influential: “Biomed Central and Microsoft honour Open Data – oh look, Microsoft trying to snuggle up to openness again… #opendata ” 3 minutes ago view tweet retweet Filter tweets […]

Rusconi says:

May 13, 2010 at 10:23 am  (Edit)

I still have to be convinced that a convicted monopolist will bona fide support anything truly “open source” or “free software” or “open data” or anything “open xxx”. I sincerely hope you are not getting netted by a purely PR operation for M$.

Filippo Rusconi
Scientist at CNRS, Paris, France
Free software developer for scientific applications

These are serious concerns and I will address them. I have previously blogged about the relationship of me and my group to Microsoft ( ) where I have shown my reasons for working with them. The current concerns are different in that they relate to sponsorship but basically have the same concern that Microsoft are guilty of actions which put them beyond the bounds of acceptability.

I do not know Filippo, but I know Glyn Moody well. He and I share positions on the Open Knowledge Foundation advisory board and most of our views coincide. However he and I differ on Microsoft. I believe his view is that Microsoft is inherently “evil” in a way beyond the natural commercial orientations and activities of any large company. I do not take this view at present although as I have acknowledged some of Microsoft’s past actions were clearly unacceptable.

Filippo describes Microsoft as a convicted monopolist, and I believe this to be essentially accurate although I do not know the precise details. From Wikipedia ( )

Throughout its history the company has been the target of criticism, including monopolistic business practices and anti-competitive strategies including refusal to deal and tying. The U.S. Department of Justice and the European Commission, among others, have ruled against Microsoft for antitrust violations.[14][15] (See also United States v. Microsoft, European Union Microsoft competition case.)

I also believe that they have been brought to justice and have been made to pay. Whether the punishment fitted the crime is a matter of for the courts and the society that convicted them. These views mirror our own approach to criminality in society: that a criminal is basically always a criminal; or that a criminal once brought to justice can change their ways.

There is nothing inherently evil in manufacturing software and information systems. I personally believe that some industries must be challenged, such as tobacco and armaments. I am not an expert on company reorientation after conviction, but I don’t believe it to be impossible. The policy of a company is made of a complex mixture of market perception (which can include ethical issues), shareholder values and the attitude of its staff. I have primarily interacted with Microsoft Research and found the staff there to be highly aware of the need to change and looking for the directions.

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11 Responses to Should I work with Microsoft?

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Unilever Centre for Molecular Informatics, Cambridge - Should I work with Microsoft? « petermr’s blog [] on

  2. Manoel Galdino says:

    What surprises me is what seems to be a naive approach to (monopolist) Microsoft.
    It is something every economist knows: a monpoly creates inefficiency and gives bad incentives to firms (any firms). SO, yeas, Microsoft will be evil as long as it is a monopolist. If, somehow, they experienced competition (for real), thanbt they would be forced to be “evil”.
    For big corporations, it’s all about incentives and, as far as I know, the incentives to Microsoft didn’t change at all.

  3. Manoel Galdino says:

    correction in the text above. What I wanted to say was: If, somehow, they experience competition(for real), than they would be forced to NOT be ‘evil’.

  4. Ruy says:

    I guess you should not work with them. M$ poisons everything it touches. And, if your research is so important, you should not put the fox to guard the hen house. These are my 2 cents.

  5. Chris Mathews says:

    How much are they willing to pay you? The number will tell me all I need to know…

    • pm286 says:

      For the BMC event I expect that my second-class fares to and from London will be covered by BMC or split between the sponsors. For the work we do in Cambridge I receive no addition to my normal salary which is paid from non-Microsoft sources.

  6. David Jones says:

    Peter you seem to make light of Microsoft’s convicted monopoly status. You’re free to do that of course, but consider an analogous situation with a chemical researcher: You have an application from a researcher, Kim, who has been convicted of stealing lab equipment and using it for his own personal gain. Kim has been “brought to justice and [has] been made to pay.”
    Would you employ Kim?

  7. Pingback: Why Peter Murray-Rust Should Not Work With Microsoft | Techrights

  8. Pingback: Unilever Centre for Molecular Informatics, Cambridge - An Apologia: Open issues including chemistry, and Microsoft « petermr’s blog

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