Ian Bicking: the old part of his blog

Microsoft Interoperability

I really have little passion one way or the other for Microsoft. I don't hate them. I suspect that is because (at least as a programmer) I interact with the company and its products very little. What a pleasant cocoon for me.

At my work we're putting together a proposal for a client. They have a Microsoft point of sale system, and part of the job would be integrating the online site with that system. Not something we have a lot of experience with, but I figure it should be doable. They mention integration in the materials, and other systems can integrate with it. The one ecommerce system we looked at was absolutely horrid, but that's promising -- if whatever class of programmer that builds such a system can manage the integration, surely we can do it!

So, I filled out a contact request with Microsoft, asking about any materials about integration and this system. We just want to know if it's feasible, a hint at how hard this might be. I don't really know what I was expecting from Microsoft; I did it more out of due diligence than any optimism on my part. But they called me back in an hour or so, which is very prompt of them.

The guy must have been looking at our website while he talked to us (they asked for our URL was part of the contact form), because as the conversation continues he starts addressing the specific technologies we use (Unixy stuff). I kind of expected he might say that, well, this sort of information and guidance requires a support contract, or an MSDN account, or something like that -- fine, I can live with that answer, phone calls aren't free, and I don't have any illusions about Microsoft being as transparent about their software as I expect to be with mine.

But that wasn't what he said -- to paraphrase him, Microsoft isn't in the business of integrating with non-Microsoft software. Anyway, I just found it ironic that this guy didn't pretend like he was supposed to.

Created 11 Feb '05


Up until two some odd years ago I was a walking MSFT billboard, metaphorically speaking with respect to my career. The company I co-founded was a boutique consultancy focussing on document management and workflow solutions for larger businesses and government, for the most part exclusively using Microsoft technologies at the back end and in the core. Prior to that I'd worked for a mid-sized, once larger sized, systems vendor (Data General) and thus had some unix-ey background. Before that with Computer Associates and thus had both PC and Mainframe background.

Back to Microsoft - they are not much help even when you are supposedly joined at the hip, at least not unless you are a targeted big consulting company or strategic end-user. Having personal contacts works, as it always does, but aside from that I always hated having to deal with them - even more than most companies hated to deal with Computer Associates!

Back in my DG days we started to try to get to know them - Windows NT was on the rise, and it made sense to do so since our market was the real enterprise and we knew we'd be seeing them everywhere. Microsoft were difficult then, quite sure of the promise NT Server offered. Too bad Novell and/or some Unix vendor didn't make file system management point-and-click friendly back then or it would be a different world, I bet.

Just the same, Microsoft should clean up their act in the near future. Now, I believe, they will increasingly be under pressure.

I'm sure there are more and more organizations willing to venture away from the supposedly tried and true. Open Source is not any longer the new kid on the block, and for many the advantages are worth seeking out actively. Why would I trade - if I have a choice - working with systems where help is but a source code file away, or from many thousands of users (and at least dozens or hundreds of actually knowledgable users) - for a closed source "solution" which more often than not gets in my way?

My sense is that the various open source pieces needed to replace Microsoft at the server level are quite well advanced. The knowledge level in corporate and vendor IT and architecture is a little less advanced but due to gain with each new class of developer graduating.

What's really holding larger migration back is the packaged software vendors - and corporate development shops to a large but slightly lesser degree - which have for too-long simply opted for Microsoft tools for safety. Seen lots of horror stories of shops that drank the Microft Koolaid even though their Spidey-sense was tingling. Not to suggest that all their tools and technologies are crap - but they tend to believe there is only one-true-way and its their-way, even though common sense says it can't possibly be that cut and dried.

Your experience clearly dug up some memories for me! I found them irritating when I was still involved with my company, and a MSFT Solutions Partner. Now I'm glad to have only one Windows machine left... never to be upgraded if I can possibly help it.

ps, noted "eternal" uptime on your work site - you guys got me beat by a little. I'm a FreeBSD afficionado, after m DG UX System V days % date Thu Feb 10 17:44:05 PST 2005 % uptime 5:44PM up 537 days, 19:18, 2 users, load averages: 0.17, 0.06, 0.02 % uname -a FreeBSD xxxxxxx 4.8-STABLE FreeBSD 4.8-STABLE #1: Fri Aug 22 17:37:09 PDT 2003 xxx@xxxxxx.xxx:/usr/obj/usr/src/sys/ROLLEI-SMP i386

Of course all this tells you is that one of my machines really needs a system upgrade, as does your firms! All id's hidden to protect the guilty!

and yes, this is written on a non-Microsoft desktop! ;-)

# Mike