Mary Jo is reporting about Microsoft’s new officelabs project. What is it? It’s an attempt by Microsoft to upgrade its development methodology to Development 2.0. Also known as open source. As Mary Jo writes:
One of the criticisms most often levied against Microsoft — and not just by anonymous posters on Mini Microsoft — is that the company has gotten too big and too slow to be effective. Can Microsoft change this dynamic?
Officials have been trying. That’s what all those greenhouses and incubators seeded throughout Microsoft are all about. Allow small, targeted teams to flourish inside the bigger Borg. Good concept, but the results haven’t been all that noticeable.
Officelabs, sources say, is a new kind of incubator that is taking shape inside the Microsoft Business Division (the unit in charge of Microsoft Office, Dynamics ERP and Dynamics CRM). It’s a fledgling group that is going to operate more like the Windows Live team than the Office one, by tossing a bunch of new products over the transom in beta form and watching to see what sticks.
It’s fascinating to see how Microsoft is pushing officelabs. Here’s some text from a job posting on its site for an officelabs developer position:
Officelabs is a new group in Microsoft Business Division tasked to push the productivity horizon farther through rapid innovation. We believe officelabs is the most innovative group pushing the envelope at Microsoft.
We are assembling small teams of top notch developers, PMs, and SDETs that will pursue their most creative ideas with a near-complete autonomy….Teams will operate in a beta release model where early, addictive and widespread real-world usage of innovations will enable them to have maximum impact without the usual prolonged shipping process. Teams will be encouraged to use an internal Open Source Model to leverage the tremendous developer talent across Microsoft. We envision that when a team decides that most of the learning is done with respect to current project, it wraps it up; and sets its sight on the next exciting challenge.
“The most innovative group…at Microsoft.” “Maximum impact without the usual prolonged shipping process.” Dare I parse this for you?
“We believe open source is a superior development model to our creaky old system, and we’re hoping and praying it will save the company.”
OK, I may have exaggerated a wee bit, but it’s almost shocking to see this sort of admission from Microsoft: open source works better. Or, at least, Microsoft believes it just may work better, and is experimenting to see for sure.
All of which means that, as I’ve said before, open source is perhaps Microsoft’s biggest opportunity and it, more than any other big proprietary software company that I know, is really struggling to figure out how to compete against open source and work with it, all at the same time.
Threat and opportunity, with the opportunity rising the better the company figures out how to leverage open source, rather than compete against it. This is a project/concept worth watching inside the company.