Skepticism, cynicism, optimism

A bunch of people want this upcoming U.S. presidential election to be one that we look back on, years hence, as the historic intersection between the Internet and democracy. Maybe, maybe not. At the same time, a quieter drama is unfolding. Although not precisely quadrennial, Microsoft product cycles have a comparable rhythm. I've seen too many of them. Yet I think I've managed to stay on the right side of the line that divides skepticism from cynicism. And when hear a cacophony of voices like this, I can even find cause for optimism:

This is a developer preview. We want your feedback, we are listening to your feedback. The pushback on XUL, CSS, etc, is being listened to. I can't say that we will implement every suggestion that is given, but the entire purpose of this early preview of our technology is to get feedback from the development community. Tell me how to avoid having two languages - CSS for style and XAML for UI, tell me how to make CSS easier to tool, tell me how to make it perform and scale to tens of thousands of elements with nested style sheets... We are listening. [SimpleGeek]

This from Chris Anderson, an architect of Longhorn's Avalon presentation subsystem. To which Gerald Bauer, architect of Luxor, replied in the comments section:

I guess you're kidding. Again, Microsoft's complete disregard for web standards is outrageous and Microsoft's attempt to try to roll back history by refusing to cooperate to build a rich internet for everyone basically amounts to a declaration of war to the Free World.

Perhaps the most interesting comment is this one, from Benjamin J. J. Voight, reacting to Bauer:

Would you at least consider providing constuctive critic? I can only imagine how you must feel (And I guess you've all the right to be upset!), but I would very much like to see the barriers be disregarded for a few moments. This new willingness to listen may come as a surprise, but from all I can tell it's honest. If you'd been at PDC you'd know.

I've had several enlightening discussions with engineers and architects at PDC, about OSS and about standards. The result was, that either they just did not know (which in my eyes is very valid, they can still learn), or they had a good reason not to use a certain standard. Of course standard by itself is not always the same, since standards itself are relative to the environment.


In my private, very limited, sphere I've only joined MS, on the promise, that MS would indeed be listening more to what other stakeholders have to say (OSS was my life untill I started here). I do see this promise being kept (minus a few execs...), but it requires, that the stakeholders actually start talking (Which some are willing to do just now, some might need more time, which is fine as far as I'm concerned).

I very much share Bauer's concerns. At the same time, I'm encouraged to hear all these different voices. At the end of the day, Microsoft's fiercest competitor is itself. The business requires significant numbers of Windows and Office installations to be upgraded, every few years, and it's hard to manufacture compelling reasons to do that. Is the Microsoft product cycle becoming a real conversation? I'm skeptical, just as I'm skeptical that the U.S. presidential election is becoming a real conversation. But in both cases it's (I hope) a healthy skepticism that doesn't require cynicism or preclude optimism.

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