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5 Questions for Microsoft’s New CEO

Right now it’s too soon to tell what kind of CEO Satya Nadella will be for Microsoft. He may be a good guy who understands just how much his company has erred ethically, almost since day one, and who has plans to realign the company he now guides to a position where it can become a positive force in the tech arena. I’m not expecting that. I’ve learned over the years to not expect anything sane or ethical from the Redmond company, no matter who’s in charge or doing the talking.

As a FOSS proponent, there are a few questions I’d like to ask Mr. Nadella if I had the chance. His answers would tell me much of what I’d like to know about the new boss at Microsoft and his plans for the company.

What are you going to do about the 235 patents that Microsoft claims are violated by Linux?

Since at least 2007, Microsoft has claimed that 235 of its patents are infringed by Linux. The trouble is, nobody knows what patents are being infringed because Redmond has been keeping that a secret, leaving us to assume that these are imaginary patents. Linux developers only want to see the patents, if they exist, so they can create workarounds to bring Linux into compliance. So far, Microsoft has refused.

With Ross Gardler, current president of the Apache Foundation and paid spokesperson for Microsoft, running around telling everyone who will listen that “Microsoft is a changed company” and “Microsoft is much more open,” now would be the time to prove it. Show us the patents or promise not to use them against Linux.

The time has come for Microsoft to make such a move. Too many of Microsoft’s big enterprise customers also depend on Linux and open source for Redmond to follow through on their threats. Co-operation with Linux on this issue would be an intelligent move.

Is Microsoft committed to open source enough to start contributing code that goes beyond merely getting Windows to work and play well with Linux and open source applications?

Again, Ross Gardler keeps telling us that Microsoft is now committed to open source while bragging about the code contributions the company has made to projects such as Linux. The trouble is, all contributions are simply for the purpose of making sure that Windows will work with the open source applications used by its enterprise clients. How about helping in ways that will improve Linux and other open source projects in other ways or perhaps by making some sizable donations to open source projects?

Will you make ODF the default format for Office?

DocX or whatever format Office is currently using needs to go out the window–no pun intended. It’s past time for Microsoft to get with the program so that it’s products work seamlessly with other office suites such as OpenOffice.

Are you willing to work with the Open Document project to give LibreOffice the capability to flawlessly open any Office document?

If Microsoft isn’t yet ready to get rid of their proprietary Office format, they could work with the Document Foundation to assure that LibreOffice and other open source office productivity suites can faithfully open and save in the Microsoft format, no matter how complex the document.

Would you be willing to contribute a meaningful number of pertinent patents and contribute financially to the Open Invention Network to help protect Linux and other open source projects from patent lawsuits?

Here’s another way that the new CEO could demonstrate a commitment to openness. Instead of going the patent troll route, why not join the more than 600 other companies who’ve become champions of open source by donating patents to the Open Invention Network’s patent pool to be used to defend Linux and other open source projects from the trolls.

For the time being, I’m reserving judgement on the new chief of the Windows world. It wouldn’t be fair to begin taking pot shots when we really don’t know anything about him other than the fact he’s spent 22 years at Microsoft–which can’t be good. It won’t take much patience or waiting before we’ll what he’s about. He’ll let us know by his actions.

I’m hoping he turns out to be a good guy, simply because the world could really use some more good guys right now and Microsoft has the potential to do much good with it’s influence and money if it ever learns to quit being selfish, self-centered and power mad. Maybe Satya Nadella is just the man to bring that about. Or maybe not. Time will tell.

Pretty soon he’ll have to do something. And then something else. And something else again. By then we should be able to see where things are going.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

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5 comments to 5 Questions for Microsoft’s New CEO

  • Bob Robertson

    The answer to anything to do with Office document formats is “No”.

    Microsoft cannot compromise on Office file formats in any way, or they endanger the one cash-cow that they have left, Office. They have engineered their entire cash flow to depend upon the upgrade treadmill, and the moment that people percieve that any other Office application is capable of competing head to head with Office, they will begin to seriously consider using it instead.

    Microsoft has been fighting a rear-guard action ever since they lost the server room to Linux. Each time they stumble, with the hardware-dependencies in XP, the disapointments of Vista and Win8, the endless trail of viruses and hacks, the idea that people can in fact live without Windows grows.

    The perceptions of “You have to have Office to have true compatibility” and “Gaming requires Windows” are really all they have left.

  • W. Anderson

    It is highly unlikely, albeit improbable that Microsoft would make ODF the “default” document format for Microsoft Office, for several very good reasons – particularly specialized Excel functions critical to Fortune 500 and thousands of other entities.

    However the company would be hard put to rationally, logically or technically factually give good reasons for not having “ODF” as a default alternate selection in File Formats list, alongside PDF.

    Even if Microsoft ‘appeared’ to be making concessions on compatibility of APIs and Formats with it’s software, there are many in the Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) community – including myself – and within corporation, governments and academia that such efforts are not as desirable, since the benefits of FOSS in Freedom of modification, implementation, as well as the great flexibility, faithful compliance to Open, Internet and International Standards would not necessarily be forthcoming from Microsoft, thus creating a more convoluted integration scenario than as presently exists.

    The City of Munich, and many divisions of the German government, sections of French government and other European Union countries are quite correct in moving completely away from any reliance or need for cooperation with Microsoft mandates and draconian, proprietary software and policies.

  • Douglas Anderson III

    Christine, while the answers to many of your above questions “should” be directly answered by the actions of Satya Nadella as well as those of his office staff, the likely of this actually happening speedily are, we would both agree, nil.

    To my mind, a feasible scenario is that Nadella’s Redmond office and its Microsoft affiliates will issue various press releases and notices to their customer base that will continue to avoid directly touching upon the issues you raise, as well as to gush praises upon Microsoft’s continued marketplace success and innovation within the technical field in general. In the latter regard, these praises will be similar to the part you describe above for Ross Gardler, current president of the Apache Foundation and paid spokesperson for Microsoft.

    I, too, note the apparent irony that your article on the new Microsoft CEO’s current silence has happened on the same day as today’s “Today We Fight Back” initiative.

  • […] “With Ross Gardler, current president of the Apache Foundation and paid spokesperson for Microsoft, running around telling everyone who will listen that “Microsoft is a changed company” and “Microsoft is much more open,” now would be the time to prove it. Show us the patents or promise not to use them against Linux,” wrote Christine Hall. […]

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