Microsoft’s massive and important pivot to transparency

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(Disclosure: Microsoft is a client of the author.)

I’ve been following Microsoft almost since its inception largely because the firm recruited me early on, but I never even went to the interview, and viewed that potential career path as my biggest “road not traveled” alternative life scenario. But up through most of last decade, Microsoft was defined by a uniquely hostile employee environment particularly at executive levels and an antiquated proprietary lock-in strategy like the one that almost took IBM out in the early 1990s. That has changed massively under Satya Nadella who aggressively moved to both eliminate the crippling and nasty culture inside the firm and to make it a poster child for open source and rather than fighting competing platforms and approaches like Linux, embracing them.

But not just open source but being open in general and, in what seems amazing, given Google seemed initially to be focused on fighting “evil” Microsoft, now Microsoft seems to be fighting a far eviler Google. (I continue to believe that somewhere in Google there is a historic list of every mistake Microsoft made and some idiot executive at Google thinks it’s a to-do list.) In effect, Google and Microsoft have switched positions.

This most recent example is that in the face of Google’s security coverup and Facebook’s multiple disclosure problems, Microsoft is advocating for even more vendor transparency. This isn’t only the right thing to do but it founds why more and more firms are favoring Microsoft solutions like Azure over offerings from newer firms. In the end, buyers still value trust highly something Microsoft painfully learned, and their younger competitors seem to want to learn the hard way.

Why transparency is important

As noted, this goes to trust, clearly there was a time when firms could realistically cover up problems and feel that the risks associated with the coverup never really exceeded the benefits. With the advent of social media, the Internet, U.S. and EU penalties in the billions, and properties like Wikileaks that has significantly changed. Now, particularly when it comes to a data breach, the chance that the penalty will exceed the combined assets of the firm have increased dramatically and a far better, safer path is to focus on assuring security, responding timely to a threat with full disclosure, and working with the various governments rather than pretending the problem never happened.

What is particularly fascinating about Google, who largely came to market as the anti-Microsoft and once had a “do no evil” tag line (which they later eliminated) is how badly that company is doing with transparency. Their CEO even seemed to be attempting to hide from a congressional investigation and there are increasing calls to break up the firm, similar to what Microsoft experienced while Google was being formed in the early 2000s.

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