The Imperative of Participation

by Bryan Kirschner on November 09, 2007 12:42pm


I blogged awhile back about “Microsoft and open source growing together”—more in the sense of concurrency rather than causality.  Today I’m blogging about the latter.

I’ve found the graphic below to be one of the most powerful visual representations of a basic fact that is often forgotten.  The surface area of the globe below represents the total number of the people working in the technology ecosystem and all the economic activity in that ecosystem.  The little square in the Redmond, Washington area is shown—at scale—Microsoft’s relative size by number of employees and annual revenue.  It’s 0.05% of the total ecosystem, according to a Harvard Business School study.

The point this drives home for me, in a very intuitive way, is that any smart technology company would be foolish not to think about participating in that larger ecosystem with business partners, developers, and user-innovators.  There’s simply a vast amount of passion, intelligence, and entrepreneurial spirit outside the boundaries of any one firm.

I was reminded of this profound point when I watched Sam’s interview of Allison Randal (IMHO, one of those people in that broader ecosystem whose passion and intelligence anyone would be a fool to ignore).  There was a phrase used in that interview describing her perspective on the open source community: “the principle that everyone deserves to participate.”

Today Microsoft and Novell announced something that couldn’t be a better example of companies thinking hard—and being willing to take some risks—to participate in that broader ecosystem, guided by the principle that everyone deserves to participate.

The size of that little block in Redmond may be small relative to the total ecosystem, but—no bones about it—Microsoft is a successful company, and as a result Microsoft invests a lot ($7B a year!) in R&D.  Among the results of those investments are accessibility technologies: User Interface Automation (UIA) is which is an accessibility framework that simplifies the development of assistive technology products. 

What Microsoft and Novell announced today is about working together to bring UIA to a broader developer and user community, enabling creation of accessible products across both Windows and Linux platforms.

On the Microsoft side, Microsoft will make available its User Interface Automation (UIA) specification, which is an advanced accessibility framework that simplifies the development of assistive technology products for people with one or more disabilities, for implementation regardless of platform, in the open source and proprietary software communities. 

On the Novell side, Novell will develop and deliver an adapter that allows the UIA framework to work well with existing Linux accessibility projects--Novell’s work will be open source and will make the UIA framework cross-platform while enabling UIA to interoperate with the Linux Accessibility Toolkit (ATK), which ships with SUSE Linux Enterprise, Red Hat Enterprise, and Ubuntu Linux.
On a strictly emotional basis, it feels pretty good to come to work on a day when the big news is about create a cross-platform solution that will provide people with disabilities greater access to computer technology.

But since I cited Harvard Business School to explain why participating in the broader community was a business imperative, let me take a little more of a hardcore business approach: Any technology company that wants to stay in business needs to think about reaching beyond the boundaries of their little “box” in the graphic above.

Any technology company that really wants to succeed, in ways nobody—whether their shareholders or their competitors—could have predicted needs to think about both reaching beyond the boundaries of their box and making that big globe even bigger.  If you can figure out how to grow participation in that larger ecosystem—well, there’s that much more passion, intelligence, and entrepreneurial spirit out there to engage with.

Today, Microsoft and Novell just took a step toward making that big world even bigger by working together across the boundaries of each firm, and across the traditional lines between proprietary and open source software development. 

It feels really good to come to work today because of this single event—it feels even better to me because I am very confident this is an example of Microsoft and open source growing together—causality, not concurrence. This is the shape of things to come--remember you read it here on Port25 first.



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