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Does Microsoft Gain From Exposing Collaborative Cloud Effort?

A group of competitors come together in secret to create a common approach to handling how different 'clouds' might interact and allow data to move between, setting out a community-based approach.

Only, now it isn't so secret.

Microsoft were recently invited to be part of this currently secretive group, comprised of unknown members, but believed to include at least IBM, Amazon, and Google, but decided not to be involved, choosing to publicly disclose the existence of the document that is being created in private at the moment.

Microsoft's argument that openness and real community assistance in developing the 'Cloud Manifesto' is what is really important is true, though it does come as a surprise coming from Microsoft, a company that has traditionally fought against the methods and concepts used in Open Source.

It seems that the intention has always been to open up the discussion on the effort once a common approach had been agreed upon, so the question then becomes at what point is it harmful to keep the development and structuring of the manifesto private? Does it really benefit the wider community to have input from the very beginning of the process, or is it best to wait until the major service providers have worked out a means to interact. The risk of the latter is that proprietary systems may be implemented that are mutually beneficent to the major players who have created the agreement, forcing everyone else to licence and pay for them, or result in the selection of a sub-optimal solution. The flipside is that allowing everyone to have input from the very beginning risks having the project bogged down in minutiae at every turn and could then be forked to a more private equivalent that is almost the same as what is in place at the moment.

Sometimes projects need a strong leadership cabal who are capable of making decisions in private before putting them out for community input and decision. Even major Open Source projects and movements have figureheads and key decision makers who manage to retain veto powers.

Cloud computing may be just the buzz word du jour, but with the resources being thrown at it and it being touted as the solution for everything, there is a lot riding on getting different vendor creations talking to each other and sharing data effectively. Rather than having cute fluffy clouds that build and share with each other we risk having massive towering cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds that smash into each other, releasing massive amounts of lightning and thunder, but not achieving much by way of sharing resources. One buzzword is being supported by another, with Microsoft pushing SOAP, XML, and REST as part of their approach to opening the data in the cloud.

When Microsoft holds up Silverlight as an example of openness and standardisation it leaves a strange taste in the mouths of open source advocates, something which is further enhanced by the claim that the manifesto organisers were unwilling to accept Microsoft's 'enhancements to the document'.

Microsoft's move to publicly announce in this light looks like a vindictive dummy spit, while the reluctance of the other companies looks like they have an awareness of recent decades of history, where Microsoft 'enhancements' often cripple or kill non-Microsoft technologies. Past history can be forgiven, but it isn't going to be forgotten so quickly. Microsoft may just have to accept that, for the next couple of years at least, they will encounter this sort of stonewalling when interacting with the long term companies in the sector. If their actions indicate that they will no longer use their 'enhancements' to neuter, then it may be accepted. The whole push to subjugate OpenDocument through the use of Open Office XML (OOXML) isn't going to leave many feeling willing to readily accept Microsoft and their enhancements.

Statements such as "Cloud computing...[will] be driven in beneficial ways by a lot of innovation that we're dreaming up today" by Microsoft are a two edged sword. The benefits may be great, but it carries all the hallmarks of being a proprietary Microsoft-only approach that has been demonstrated all too many times before.

We'll all just have to wait until the Cloud manifesto is released (said to be March 30) to see just what the hype is all about and what sort of ideas and processes have been implemented. Those who think the cloud is just another hype-filled waste of time might secretly be cheering for the manifesto to be a failure, or for Microsoft to really deliver on their 'enhancements' as they have in the past and kill it before it gets too big.

Who is really behind it all? Links to groups and sites have sprung up all over the place, but with the dating on many being after Microsoft spilled the beans, it is hard to say where it originated, though here and here are two of the most likely sources behind the manifesto. Despite the open linkage after Microsoft's announcement, it does seem that Microsoft does have a minor point. From the available information, it does look like there are some biases present (a Google Code project - probably one of the sore points for Microsoft), but it is far more open than what has come before.

Come the 30th, we will be able to see just what the bickering and hype is all about. What is almost certain is that the people and groups behind the manifesto have completely screwed up the handling of the public release of information and are scrambling to recover after Microsoft's announcement.

Let's hope the standard for intercommunication and sharing of data put forward in the manifesto is better than what has been displayed so far.

28 March 2009

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