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The People’s Microsoft?

By Dennis Junk | Small Business

The People’s Microsoft? image mark russThe People’s Microsoft?

In the late 90s, Mark Russinovich worked for a New Hampshire software company, but he spent his spare time picking through the code in Microsoft’s Windows NT operating system. While doing so, he discovered that Microsoft was misleading customers about why one version of the OS was more expensive than the other.

Supposedly, NT Workstation wasn’t equipped to deliver websites to people on the internet, so if you wanted to run web serving software you needed to upgrade to NT Server, which was significantly more expensive. Russinovich showed that the two OSs were nearly identical—that in fact it was some deliberately added code preventing the less expensive version from performing certain tasks. He even released a program that would let anyone make Workstation do what only Server was supposed to be capable of doing.

As you might imagine, Microsoft wasn’t too happy about this. Their first response, given the company’s reputation at the time, didn’t surprise anyone. A few days after he made the hack available, the employees of the software firm Russinovich worked for were blocked from entering the building where a Microsoft event was being held.

But the second response was different. Jim Alchin, the head of the Windows team, offered Russinovich a job, apparently thinking something along the lines of, if you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em. Russinovich declined at first and continued playing the role of consumer advocate, publishing several more revelations about Microsoft technologies.

But he did eventually join Microsoft as a Technical Fellow and went on to become one the principle architects of the cloud computing service Azure.

The Tech Bully

When Azure was first created, it basically forced developers to use Microsoft tools. And this was in keeping with some of the bad habits the tech giant was notorious for. Throughout the 90s and into the aughts, Microsoft managed to acquire a reputation for heavy-handedness. When other companies like Google started making their OSs open source, Microsoft worried that giving up control of Windows would make it harder to force people to buy their own devices. The same went for tools for developers like the .NET framework.

The problem was that throughout the 80s the company became accustomed to having all the negotiating leverage in dealings with customers and device manufacturers (a bit like Amazon with the publishing industry today). But with increasing competition from the Googles and the Apples it was soon clear that Microsoft could no longer dictate how its technologies were used while still harboring any hope of continued relevance.

New Leadership

Microsoft is finally coming around—and then some. Russinovich taking the helm of Azure coincides with a changing of the guard at the highest level of Microsoft, as CEO Steve Ballmer hands the reins over to Satya Nadella. With the new leadership has come a new philosophy of openness and freedom for developers. Already Microsoft has:

-          Released a free version of Windows OS

-          Released a version of Office that runs on iPads

-          Open-sourced several development tools and programming languages

All of these announcements were hailed as welcome—if somewhat overdue—advances for the company. But perhaps the most surprising development has been the expansion of Azure to accommodate almost any kind of development tools, including the open source operating system Linux. That had a lot to do with the leadership of Mark Russinovich.

Microsoft isn’t changing its ways out of the goodness of its heart. The company has rethought its strategies because those strategies were no longer working. In other words, Microsoft changed because it had to. Still, by hiring and elevating people like Nadella and Russinovich to leadership positions, the company is making sure the shift is permanent. “I feel that, more and more,” Russinovich has said, “Microsoft is embodying the values I’ve always had.”

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: The People’s Microsoft?

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