SOFTWARE: OPEN, CLOSED AND DOCUMENTED

12. August 2006, 13:47 | by WD Milner | Full Article |

Microsoft has found itself in the news quite frequently of late for continued complaints in Europe of anti-competitive behaviour, most recently for demands that they should be more forthcoming about the internals of the ubiquitous Microsoft Office so that other vendors could provide better product integration.

Microsoft provides (that I have seen) no source code visibility to regular customers and only chosen pieces to a select few independant software vendors under some likely very tight contractual restrictions. This means the the majority of users, and developers that didn’t make the cut, are basically working in the dark when it comes to understanding exactly how their systems function. As a result there is little opportunity to actively react to problems as only Microsoft knows what is really going on inside the software and thus only it can really help, should it actually care to do so - and in its own good time.

This is common to those who have grown up with the PC but it was not something that Microsoft inherited from its predecessors in the marketplace. Before Microsoft, and to be fair most current software firms, existed the approach to code visibility was much better - and very different.

Prior to the mid 1980’s, for the most part the mainframe computer was the core of business data processing, and IBM ran the mainframe much as Microsoft “runs” the PC’s of today. What was different was the manner in which IBM interacted with its customers and other software vendors.

Long before there was a labelled “open source movement” virtually all software was effectively just that. Documentation - REAL printed manuals - were available to everyone, including general users offering detailed looks into the software without any special contracts or non-disclosure agreements and IBM provided detailed information at the code level for its operating systems and major subsystems.

When something went wrong, users, often in conjuction with an IBM support representative, would go through the data dumps, and with the detailed documentation figure out what was wrong and fix it. This is similar to how the open source community of today interacts with its users. This level of cooperation and productivity is only possible due to the open access to what is actually running on our machines.

It is perhaps ironic that when it cost substantial money to provide hard-copy manuals and ship them to users that program information was readily available, but in this day and age of cheap “soft copy” on CD and DVD and Web based knowledgebases, that Microsoft, and similar firms, continue to withhold this information.

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Categories: ,
Keywords: Microsoft,open source,manuals,documentation,visibility,user enpowerment

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