This week, speaking at a Gartner conference in Orlando, Florida, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said some fascinating things about Linux and about Open Source software in general. And thanks to those remarks and the blinding realization they caused for me, I finally understand exactly why Microsoft doesn't understand Open Source. Ballmer asked, "Should there be a reason to believe that code that comes from a variety of people around the world would be higher-quality than from people who do it professionally? Why is its pedigree better than code done in a controlled fashion? I don't get that. There is no road map for Linux, nobody who has his rear end on the line. We think it's an advantage a commercial company can bring -- we provide a road map, indemnify customers. They know where to send e-mail. None of that is true in the other world. So far, I think our model works pretty well," The model has worked well for Microsoft, that's for sure.
At the core of Ballmer's remarks is a fundamental misunderstanding not only of Open Source, but of software development as an art rather than as a business. Cutting to the bone of his remarks, he is saying that Microsoft developers, since they are employees, are more skilled and dedicated than Open Source developers. They are better, Ballmer suggests, because Microsoft developers have their rears (presumably their jobs) on the line. All those lines and all those rears are part of a road map, he says, and because of that road map the $30 billion plus Microsoft gets each year isn't too much for us to pay, so the model works pretty well. This is nonsense. It is nonsense because Steve Ballmer, like Bill Gates before him, confuses market success with technical merit. Microsoft's product roadmap is a manifestation of a business plan, and what matters in Redmond is the plan, not the map, which is in constant flux. How many technical initiatives has Microsoft announced with fanfare and industry partners, yet never delivered? Dozens. That is no roadmap.
News source: I, Cringely