I just spent an interesting and productive hour with Matthew Aslett of the Computer Business Review. Matthew writes one of the most interesting blogs on open source, so we met to talk about the state of the open source market.
In the course of our conversation, we talked about Microsoft and its reactions to open source. In discussing this, I raised the issue of how hard it is sometimes to give credence to what Microsoft says. Not because of what it says, but because of all that it does not say.
I know that public companies are under amazing pressure to be as universally bland as possible, but Microsoft can dazzle at times with its willingness to attack others publicly (as it did yesterday with Google, and which Tim rightly calls “foul” on). So, it doesn’t have a communication problem.
The problem, as I see it, is that Microsoft only appears to be willing to be public about negative moves, and only en masse as a company. It doesn’t allow its employees (or they don’t feel entitled to do so) to discuss the company’s actions publicly. (Apparently, it also muzzles those of us who simply occasionally blog on Microsoft-related sites.)
Letting a few small cracks show through would make Microsoft stronger, not weaker. It’s hard to trust a company or person that purports to be perfect, simply because we know that we, ourselves, are not perfect. If an employee were to get out of line, it’s either a sign that a) the company has serious strategic problems it needs to fix or b) the employee doesn’t believe in the company’s correct strategic decisions and needs to go. Either solution is fine. But silence leads to neither, and so leaves both the bad employee or the bad company intact.
Open the windows, Microsoft. Let some fresh air in. Let conversation flow, both out from the company and into the company. It will make you a better company. And a more credible vendor.