Gates Promises Interoperable Software

In a letter to customers this week, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates made a promise to design software that is interoperable with other systems. Although Redmond is traditionally known for its closed formats and code, Gates said communication between applications is critical for business.

He also took a swipe at open source, saying such development hinders interoperability.

E-mails directly from Gates usually signify the start to major initiatives within Microsoft. His letters have previously focused on security issues and changes to Redmond development policies to better protect customers. But now, Gates has shifted his attention toward industry standards.

"Microsoft has been working with the industry to advance a new generation of software that is interoperable by design, reducing the need for custom development and cumbersome testing and certification," said Gates. "These efforts are centered on using XML, which makes information self-describing - and thus more easily understood by different systems."

Gates cited the use of XML in Office 2003 as one example of how Microsoft is pushing interoperability. "Office documents, spreadsheets and forms can be saved in an XML file format that is freely available for anyone to license and use. Office also supports customer-defined XML schema beyond the existing Office document types," he said.

However, the company's Office formats have become a point of contention, as although Microsoft makes use of the open XML architecture, its formats are closed and encumbered by licensing restrictions. The state of Massachusetts recently found itself unsure of how to classify Microsoft's Office formats under its new "Open Standards" policy.

"I think Microsoft is premature trumpeting the open-format messaging. And to be clear, by any definition typically applied to file formats, Office isn't open," Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews.

But Gates made clear in his letter that interoperability does not equate to open source. He said that interoperability is about how different software systems work together, regardless of licensing and development. Gates claimed that open source could actually have a detrimental effect on making software interoperable.

"The open source development approach encourages the creation of many permutations of the same type of software application, which could add implementation and testing overhead to interoperability efforts," Gates argued.

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