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Microsoft's 50,000-Page Summer Thriller

Your editor is writing this entry from his childhood home outside of Dallas, a place that always brings back memories of, well, childhood. Now that we're stretching into the third or fourth inning of summer, a lot of those memories are of playing baseball and soccer in the backyard and then weaving into the house completely dehydrated (hey, it gets hot in Texas) and gulping gallons of water. But one piece of news this week stirred our recollection of another summer standard: the summer reading list.

At the end of every school year, some well-intentioned teacher would give her students a list of books to read over the summer -- without the power of actually being able to "assign" them. The more intellectual kids probably read them, but your editor never did, preferring instead to devour Sports Illustrated and the Dallas Morning News (yes, even as a kid) and then participate in the aforementioned outdoor sporting activities.

Well, this summer, Microsoft has its own suggested reading, which should prove more popular among certain audiences than the old summer reading list did in this house: Redmond has released "Version 1.0" of documentation on some of the protocols in its most important products.

This is the stuff that Bill Gates -- you might remember him as Microsoft's former CEO -- never wanted to publish. But antitrust suits forced Microsoft's hand, and now the company's all about interoperability and openness. This week's dump includes information on protocols used in Exchange Server 2007, SharePoint Server 2007 and Office 2007, among other big-name Microsoft offerings.

So, who's hauling this tome to the beach or skipping a pick-up soccer game to stay inside and read? Well, the European Union's competition cranks, for sure, given that the existence of this documentation is as much their doing as anybody else's, and given that they're still not convinced that Microsoft is interested in interoperability. (Ha! Just try to take the whole month of August off and still finish reading this stuff by fall, Eurocrats.) But other audiences of immediate interest to Microsoft will be turning pages, as well.

Specifically, the Office stuff will appeal to the nations and organizations that contend that Office Open XML, currently an industry standard with a big asterisk on it (as in *pending appeal), shouldn't be a standard at all. Plus, we imagine that some Microsoft competitors might be a little bit curious about the new documentation.

Will Microsoft's summer reader be enough to assuage those hostile audiences? We doubt it -- after all, this is really just an update of documentation released in April -- but for Redmond, it's another step on the path to working more readily with other vendors and with the industry as a whole.

And while we've defended here Microsoft's right to keep proprietary things private, we also can't see all that much of a downside in Microsoft explaining how its stuff works and making it easier for other vendors to work with it. In other words, we have a feeling that divulging these precious trade secrets won't put Microsoft out of business.

As for us, though, we'll be skipping Microsoft's summer page-turner. Next week's Worldwide Partner Conference and other events (along with a complete lack of skill in both sports) will probably cut down severely on the baseball- and soccer-playing, but we're pretty confident that we can still find better things to do this summer than read 50,000 pages of protocol documentation -- like, for instance, anything.

What's your take on Microsoft's new "openness"? Will you be reading all 50,000 pages this summer? Sound off at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on July 01, 2008 at 11:54 AM


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