by jcannon on August 14, 2006 12:00pm

A couple weeks ago I was put in the ‘hot seat’ at the O’Reilly Radar Executive Briefing at OSCON in Portland.  Danese Cooper from Intel had a lineup of questions to ask and we had fun (really) discussing many of the issues about Microsoft and Open Source.  In his blog, Tim mentioned one of my quotes from this session about dealing with ‘close mindedness’ around the issues of Microsoft and OSS, as it’s something that I deal with daily.  Being on the hot seat answering these types of question and dealing with close mindedness is part of my job, I’m not complaining, but I did think it was worthwhile to expand on what I meant by this comment.

In 2 ½ years in this job, I’ve learned a lot.  But maybe one of the most interesting is related to the seemingly obvious fact that everyone has an opinion about Microsoft.  Good or Bad, but rarely indifferent – for what it’s worth, this is not common of most companies.   There are many reasons why this happens, of course, but it does introduce an opinionated, subjective element into every conversation I have.

In many ways, this perspective (and bear with me here) is not unlike how many people feel about country music.  Most people have an opinion about country music – some love it, some hate it, but rarely do you find people who hear country music who don’t have an opinion one way or another.  Many people hear country music at some stage in their life and make a judgment call on country music forever – this happened to me with some really old recordings from Marty Robbins I heard on my Dad’s eight track player when I was six.  In a similar way, I meet people who view Microsoft through their experiences with NT 4.0 or even Windows 95 and assume that the products we have today must be the same as they experienced back then.  I realize people don’t think we still sell these specific older products today, but their perception is rooted in these product experiences.  Of course this happens with all sorts of things, not just music and technology, but it does build a ‘mindedness’ about the subject that is often dated and stale.

This is topical for me as I just returned from a trip to Montana where I attended my first country music concert.  Up to this point, I’ve been listening to Marty Robbins-era country on occasion, mostly Johnny Cash, so my perception about country music is behind the times to say the least.  Sure, I’ve heard country now and again, but not really listened to anything recently.  So sitting in this concert at the Montana State Fair in Great Falls, listening to a present day country star, Trace Adkins, I realized a lot has changed.  Sure, there’s still the hat, boots and giant belt buckle thing, but the music has changed – lots more pop, rock and of course more contemporary lyrics.

Back to the initial ‘close mindedness’ issue.  The issue I typically face is one of perception, typically a historically based perception.  I’m talking about perceptions of both Microsoft and open source software here, and both external and internal to Microsoft.  Sure, I realize there’s always history, good and bad and indifferent, but in some of my conversations, I hear a lot of opinion based on rather old experiences.  IMHO, what really helps progress any conversation is taking this historical experience with a complete and open minded understanding of the present day and then making an assessment – good, bad, or indifferent. 
What we’re trying to do with Port 25 is to bring some contemporary insights into what Microsoft is doing in OSS.  I’m also hoping it allows people to take a look at our software overall, to see what we’re building and why (if you pull the ‘port25’ off the technet.com url you can find a load of useful Microsoft technical information, including software downloads and howtos).  We’re a commercial software company and we strive to build great products – sounds like marketing and it is, because we’re proud of what we do.  So you may see some hats and boots here and there but you’ll also probably hear some rock and roll in the music now too.   And I’m not here to sell you.  You may decide you don’t like our music, and that’s fine, because what I’m hoping for is a more accurate, up to date perspective so that the conversations and mindedness can strive to be more open and more productive.  This is my approach both externally and internally, and about both Microsoft software and open source software.

Changing perceptions is challenging but important.  And it takes time.  For me, I’m attending my next country music concert this week here in Seattle, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.  Although it’s certainly not Marty Robbins or Johnny Cash, I’m starting to appreciate the changed genre.  Just don’t expect to see me wearing giant belt buckles anytime soon.

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