I took a piss at Microsoft.
No, really. I took a piss at the Microsoft Convention Centre in Redmond, WA.
As you would already know, Yusseri and I were invited to attend this annual, exclusive event at Microsoft Corp. It's cold out, 10°C daytime and 2°C nighttime. They feed you with lots of expresso, latte, mocha and a fridgeful of soda. I really had to take a piss.
We got in yesterday afternoon, after 24 hours in the air and in transit via Singapore and Tokyo. As luck would have it, US Customs and Border Patrol in Seattle has to reward me with a random check. They were interested in the HackInTheBox sticker I had on my notebook though, but the whole check was a mere formality. Boy, am I glad though they don't do checkups like they do in Wuhan, China as the pic on the right shows.
I still had to take a piss after that though, 16 hours on an aircraft and all that.
Day Zero, which is what yesterday is, was quite uneventful if you can discount a deep discussion of what last city visited meant on our Customs forms and having the Hummer H3 we are driving being broken into and our stereo nearly getting jacked. Pretty uneventful. Oh yeah, I also bought an IPod at the Apple Store and took a close up view of the newly launched Apple TV media device.
Up and early in the morning for the 7.30am shuttle to the Microsoft campus, the coffee they poured down our very willing throats was abundant, resulting in aforementioned piss.
Ditesh's email of the scanned in article in Monday's Tech&U on the ODF thingy had me quoted as well. And lo and behold, keynoting the morning's session was Bill Hilf, who was also quoted in the same article. Bill's the General Manager of Platform Strategy at Microsoft.
Bill is a former OSS dude who worked on Apache, and today heads Microsoft's platform strategy. Microsoft's Linux Labs started off being a lonely Dell tower sitting under Bill's desk. His message was one of community and collaboration, and how Microsoft is learning to play nice with us open source type folk while still maintaining they're software licensing based business model. Make no mistake about it though, Microsoft is in it for profit, Bill stressed.
What got really interesting was when Yusseri raised the issue of OOXML and why didn't Microsoft just work on ODF in collaboration instead of creating a new, bloated standard. Bill's answer was quite surprising, as he clarified that the file format (OOXML) was a part of the software and that OOXML and the software (MS Office) are quite inseparable. Ergo, OOXML is an integral and inseparable part of MS Office. That's why they could not adopt ODF as the file format for subsequent versions of MS Office.
I don't really know if Bill realises this, but he's just illuminated that this whole OOXML, ECMA and ISO standards play is not about standards nor about Microsoft vs IBM but about legitimizing as a standard a specific technology from a single company developed in isolation from the general technology and user community worldwide.
It was an eye opener, and in my opinion, quite damning to Microsoft. Are they really trying to push through their software, in the form of the inseparable OOXML/MS Office as an international standard ? Is this all about ensuring that future generations of MS Office have a purpose on the planet in the face of competition from other office suites like OpenOffice.Org ?
Perhaps these questions should be asked at the ECMA, ISO and at the level of National Standards Bodies as well.
We'll be sitting with Sam Ramji and Bill in a couple of days to go over this issue in much more detail, given the time constraints at the summit proper.
Kevin Schofield's presentation on what Microsoft Research is doing was interesting, from a geeky perspective. Showing prototypes of image processing technology, visual recognition software as well as working prototypes of new ground broken in the Human-Computer Interface as a leadup to truly pervasive computing was illuminating. While I have seen different implementations of these before at the MIT Media Lab, one does trust that Microsoft will be bringing some of these to the average user in the years to come.
It's nice to be here at Redmond, if anything, to get frank discussions going with the folk behind the stuff Microsoft creates without having to cut through the veils and mazes thrown up by the marketroids. I am looking forward to that discussion with Bill and Sam, as well as meeting up with an old misguided buddy, Tan Loke Uei, who's now based in Redmond.
More on the summit in the days to come, but I need to go take a piss again.