Microsoft’s Cross-Ideological Tech Summit

by on March 30, 2008 · 0 comments

Luis Villa has an interesting write-up of his week at the Microsoft Tech Summit. The explicit goal of the summit, apparently, was to bring together the two major worldviews in the software development world: the “cathedral” model, represented by Microsoft’s own top-down software development process, and the “bazaar” model of the typical open source/web 2.0 project. I’m not sure what Microsoft was hoping to get out of this, but I can think of a couple of likely answers: to soften up the antagonism toward Microsoft in some corners of the open source world, and to keep their own people on their toes by learning more about the types of criticisms they’re likely to encounter on the other side of the fence.

This is something that Microsoft, to its credit, has put an impressive amount of effort into. Way back when I was in college, almost a decade ago now, Microsoft hired a friend of mine to be Microsoft’s official campus evangelist. Basically he got paid $15/hour to hold meetings where he’d tout (and in some cases give away) Microsoft products. They were totally up front about it, and I think it was pretty effective. Lots of us still disliked Microsoft’s products for various reasons, but it definitely took the edge off of anti-Microsoft attitudes. More recently, Microsoft hired prominent blogger Robert Scoble (who has since left to help evangelize Microsoft’s products. This sort of thing has helped to counteract the negative publicity the company has gotten from its more open-source-hostile actions.

I also think it’s interesting to reflect on the fact that the software industry is virtually unique in even having these kinds of distinct, well-defined ideological camps. Maybe I just don’t know other industries well enough, but I can’t think of any other examples. The philosophical distinctions here are totally orthogonal to conventional ideological categories. Yet they attract similar levels of fervor from their adherents as do liberalism, conservatism, or libertarianism. Geeks like to half-jokingly refer to these kinds of disagreements as religious difference, and they really are only half joking. Questions about software licenses and project organization do, in fact, inspire exactly the same kind of passion as debates over theology.

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