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Maybe they're not so different from us...

Alan Coopersmith
Senior Principal Software Engineer

It's all too easy to think of Microsoft as a faceless, inhuman "Evil Empire" when reading sites like Slashdot and Groklaw or even listening to some of the comments made in the past by people in Sun from the executives down to the rank-and-file. And even though I know how often we in Sun are amused by some of the wacky theories out there about what Sun is up to ("It's impossible to have a conspiracy of 30,000 people" is a response I've heard quoted a few times), it's not always easy to remember that Microsoft is in the same boat. So while a lot of people recently were pointing to the story of Sun Opteron servers being installed in Microsoft's Enterprise Engineering Center as "proof they're not all bad", I've found that hasn't changed my opinion of Microsoft as much as their increasing openness via blogs and other forums.

Of course, the most visible of these and the person I'd say is most responsible for putting a human face to Microsoft is Robert Scoble, whose blog output I can barely keep up with reading, much less trying to match in writing (I'm lucky to get a few entries a month out - he almost always has several per day). But it's also being able to see conversations between a MS Word developer and an Abiword developer, or seeing a former member of Microsoft's Shared Source team explain their challenges in a way that resounds with the experiences Sun's OpenSolaris team are having facing many of the same challenges, that show maybe the walls between Microsoft and the rest of the world are starting to come down. And when you read stories like John Porcaro's of the difference in how Microsoft treats it's employees vs. some other companies more deserving of the "evil" moniker, it's hard not to think that we're more like Microsoft than we realized. I've known several Sun employees who have unfortunately been in similar situations, and the response from their managers has always been along the lines of "I hope your [son|daughter|father|mother|etc.] will be okay - go be with them and let me know if there's anything we can do to help." Perhaps it's our business - as developers there's rarely anything so pressing that only one person can do, so things can be reassigned or postponed a few days when emergencies come up, and letting the engineers be with their families when they need them benefits everyone in the end - the engineer is less stressed and while Sun may lose a few days of work up front (though probably at much lower productivity since the employee will be distracted and trying to keep in touch with their family), they end up with better morale overall, and an employee more likely to be willing to put in the long hours when really needed in return.

That's not to say they're not still the competition, or that either Sun or I agrees with many of the things they do. On the other hand, HP, Novell/SuSE, and Red Hat are also clearly competitors (and partners, given the wonderfully tangled webs often woven in the technology industry), but I have excellent, friendly, productive working relationships with my counterparts from those companies when we work together in X.Org to the benefit of all our companies and the community in general. We have to be careful about respecting the boundaries in place - not sharing corporate secrets or discussing any business matters that would make anti-trust lawyers upset - but that doesn't stop us from going out together, having dinner and a beer, or from getting the work done we need to. While I doubt we'll see Microsoft in X.Org any time soon, I wouldn't be surprised to see people from other parts of our companies establishing similar relationships to the benefit of everyone involved.

(And since I've probably gotten the attention here of "he who pubsubs" [1], and who also loves extolling the virtues of the Tablet PC, I had a recent thought - perhaps it's just coincidence, but as a TiVo addict I've noticed over the years many mentions of TiVo's being included in things such as gift packages for Oscar presenters and other entertainment industry insider giveaways, and that while other competitors such as ReplayTV and even Microsoft's own UltimateTV have come and gone, it's always TiVo you hear mentions of or see in the background on TV shows. I would think that if you wanted to spread the Tablet PC word, perhaps seeding some to a few people in the right places would do a world of good - for instance, if the writers for a show like Law & Order were sitting around their conference table pitching story ideas with a tablet PC in front of them, but not blocking their view of the other people at the table, how long before one ends up in front of the camera - after all, a courtroom would seem an ideal place for the tablet form factor - laying flat it won't block the lawyers view of the courtroom, nor will it expose their notes as easily to the spectators sitting behind them. And if only a few of the millions of viewers pick up on it, maybe you won't have to wait quite as long before you can post another note about selling a million Tablet PC's. Of course, if anyone else is still reading, I would point out that just because it's a tablet, doesn't mean you have to run Windows on it - for instance, there's tips on running Linux on a Fujitsu Stylistic ST5010 tablet here and I've gotten e-mail from a Solaris x86 user who used some of the same tips to load Solaris 10 on his - using the Wacom driver we provide with Xorg in Solaris for the stylus for instance.)

[1] Bonus points to any readers who recognized the obscure ancient Usenet cultural reference to he who greps

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Comments ( 3 )
  • Eduardo Friday, April 1, 2005
    The problem isn't Microsoft's employees. The problem is Microsoft's leadership has the goal of maintaining its present monopolies and establishing new ones, and regularly resorts to illegal and unethical means to achieve these ends. This was true in the past, it is true today, and it is quite unlikely it will change in the foreseeable future.
  • Matt Friday, April 1, 2005
    Eduardo - Cool, lets go with the FUD, why dont we???
  • Malx Monday, April 25, 2005
    Hey, I'm an MS employee, and I have a dual UltraSPARC box at home compiling gcc and mozilla right now. C'mon, of course we're not evil.
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