announcing this morning the release of thousands of pages of technical documents concerning its most prized software, with the stated goals of facilitating interoperability and data portability. Office, Sharepoint and Exchange are all covered in the documentation, which should make it easier for 3rd parties to write applications that can extract, read, write to and transform Microsoft-published user data.Microsoft is
Is this what data portability looks like? Or are these steps just being taken to fend off legal challenges concerning unfair monopolistic practices? Does that matter, really, if the effect is the same?
Now that Bill Gates is gone, as of last week, a new era has officially begun at Microsoft. Skepticism runs deep, however, and no one is sure whether the giant company's recent rhetoric about openness and a new light-weight future are for real.
Insiders working to advance the community of standards based openness tell us that they are getting a better feeling from Microsoft than many armchair critics would lead us to believe is warranted. Some analysts have even begun to wonder whether the old tropes about Microsoft as closed and rival Google as open are as applicable today as they used to be.
Still, we wonder whether releasing technical documentation about existing products is really a move towards data portability. It could be framed as another step to keep Microsoft, and its data protocols, in the center of the market. That's where the company is right now, though, and the documentation being released does seem to allow 3rd party application developers a way to extend a hand to Microsoft customers in order to guide them out into the larger online ecosystem.
This documentation may be necessary for Microsoft to play at all in the future of more usable applications. Opening up programmatic access to Microsoft user data is either a brave or necessary step to take.
We also wonder how Microsoft's data openness initiatives will relate to Live Mesh, the latest contender for the "future of Microsoft" crown.
We look forward to reading more discussion about today's announcement from the development community interested in leveraging Microsoft technical documentation.