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Microsoft emails Blender
Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 12:52 PM EDT

Microsoft has just approached the Blender guys, and I would assume have or will approach other FOSS projects since we learn that Microsoft has assigned a guy to work with Open Source projects, with a request for information on how to make Blender run better on Windows. Here's part of what Microsoft emailed to Blender:
With respect to Blender, what can you tell me about your community/user feedback that you have heard regarding file formats? Specifically, Microsoft is slowly shifting toward a more open standards based approach to its file formats. The ISO standard Office Open XML is an example of the direction we are moving towards. A good user experience of Blender on Windows is good for your project/community and good for Microsoft. What we are trying to understand is what file formats, which are not open or not fully open, are impeding the optimal experience with your community.

OOXML is an example of openness? They're kidding, right?

While on the surface, one might think this is an example of greater openness on Microsoft's part, I thought it would be probably a good time to point out Microsoft's competitive strategy against Linux and FOSS. I think this is an example of its announced strategy to "outsmart Linux", as Ballmer put it, using "openness" -- a Brand X, tilted version of it -- to do it.

Here's the overarching strategy Ballmer mentioned recently:

I would love to see all Open Source innovation happen on top of Windows. So we've done a lot to encourage, for example, the team building, PHP, the team building, many of the other Open Source components, I'd love to see those sorts of innovations proceed very successfully on top of Windows.

Because our battle is not sort of business model to business model. Our battle is product to product, Windows versus Linux, Office versus OpenOffice.

Get it? They view everything as a battle. "All Open Source innovation" means to him, I gather, that Windows runs the applications so well, the GNU/Linux operating system dies off. Who needs it? That's how they think, because they don't grasp any purpose to freedom for the code or for the end user. If you do, please watch out. The OOXML saga stands as a perfect example of how Microsoft plays to win, by hook or by crook. It is a "standard" that only Microsoft can fully use. That's not openness to me. Why don't they help the OpenOffice.org guys by telling them how to render Windows Office 2007 documents properly? Really. If openness is the goal, how about it, Microsoft? I know. I jest. Instead, Microsoft would like FOSS developers to cross over to Microsoft's eternally tilted playing field and lose its competitive advantage. They want Open Source applications to run better on Windows with the purpose of battling against GNU/Linux and FOSS more successfully. Want to help them?

I know. It's complex. But unless Microsoft also lets FOSS run Microsoft applications on Linux equally well as FOSS apps on Windows, it's not actually interoperability or openness, is it? It's a Microsoft advantage. "Ha ha, Linux, we outsmarted you," I can imagine them saying. Microsoft's idea of interoperability is that it runs everything just great, your stuff and theirs, and you can't. You can run your stuff great and their stuff in a hobbled and imperfect fashion that leads the ill-informed to conclude that Microsoft is "better".

There are more than just technical issues to think through, in other words. I'm just saying consider the entire picture. Microsoft is. Here's where, in 2002, Ballmer said Microsoft would outsmart Linux, using increased 'openness' as part of that plan.

The bottom line is this: if Microsoft wants interoperability, all it has to do is follow true standards, and by that I mean ones that don't allow proprietary extensions the way OOXML does, and open up their APIs so everyone is on the same page. Their goal, however, isn't true interoperability. It's to have Windows do everything, including running Linux applications, better than anyone else. Why should you settle for Brand X "interoperability"?

They will very likely also use such reaching out to projects in their defense before the EU Commission, so unless you wish to be used that way, think deeply about your response. I understand that there is a very fine line to be drawn, but while Microsoft says it will "outsmart Linux", I don't believe that is possible if you stay alert. Most of the brainiacs, in my experience, are here, not there. But because there is no central management to plan and react to their competitive strategies, they might be successful in their overarching aim to destroy Linux and FOSS, if no one thinks these types of issues through carefully. Happily, Blender is GPL'd, but so is Linux, and we saw how Novell got snookered. It's natural to want your applications to run better on all operating systems. But if the end result is the Extinguishing of FOSS as we know it, what have you done?

You will likely find the responses on the Blender list of interest, as you follow the thread. Here's the very first comment:

I would not touch that with a barge pole. MS XML is an example that they are not moving on that issue, or they would support ODF, not using dirty tactics to force an half-backed non open standard.

They have an history to use one OSS group against another too.

Blender is in a position where we do not depend on any MS backed format, so I think we should be very careful to stay neutral in those areas.

And the next:

Personally I don't see why specific attention should be given to proprietary Microsoft file formats. If they continue to avoid truly open standards and their own file formats provide a sub-optimal experience for Windows users, then it is not the open source community that has a problem imho.

I don't see Microsoft making it easy for Mac, Sun, Linux etc users to use their "file formats, which are not open or not fully open". Any multi platform application which has support for Windows specific file formats is going to end up with a fragmented community as data then becomes platform specific even if the application isn't.

Do we want to help Microsoft lock more users data to their platform, or do we want to encourage Microsoft to truly move towards open standards?


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