At Microsoft Build 2021, I was struck by how different the company was from when I first started covering it in 1994 during the ramp up to Windows 95.
Back then, Microsoft, just like Apple and IBM, was particularly proprietary and fiercely competitive.
But in the early 2000s, Microsoft started to change its external behavior. Instead of challenging interoperability, they embraced it. Instead of challenging open source and Linux, they became one of the biggest advocates. And last week at Microsoft Build, it was clear that this has also had a positive impact on the company.
Microsoft is a company folks want to work in tech.
Why Open Source Makes For Better Companies
The old way of doing things in the tech industry was primarily defined by a practice that companies like Apple still have called lock-in.
On the surface, it creates a highly proprietary ecosystem, requires you to buy exclusively from the vendor using lock-in and where the switching cost to another vendor is so high, it’s hard to switch.
It is a system that promotes a heavy us-vs.-them behavior pattern. This external behavior seems to promote a similar independent internal behavior as well.
But I watched IBM change when they switched to open source and embraced a more collaborative approach to business. Customer satisfaction came up, customer loyalty came up, the IBM image improved, and, most importantly, people told me the company became a better place to work. With IBM, I thought this was correlation, not causation, but after watching Microsoft and talking to some of their leading internal developers, it now appears more like causation.
In thinking about this cause and effect, it would seem intuitively obvious that if you promote a behavior pattern where you are constantly trying to get the most out of customers, partners and suppliers, it will result in interpersonal behavior that is sometimes adversarial.
If you institutionalize this behavior, you’ll promote the behavior. And people don’t just interact externally. They interact internally as well.
Companies using lock-in commonly live with a winner-take-all, me-vs.-the-world attitude.
But open source is a seed change, and it promotes cooperation and collaboration, which is a far less aggressive mindset. Instead of thinking of ways others have to lose, you think of ways for you to win. You approach the problem differently, looking for the common benefit and recognizing a loss will hurt you both. And it has to be a better company to work at as well.
After listening to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and talking to amazing people like Sarah Novotny and Scott Hanselman (who did one of the best demos I’ve ever seen), I think that Microsoft is a better company than they were decades ago.
I think there is no more noble purpose than creating collaborative and cooperative environments. It is a testament to companies like IBM and Microsoft that their switch from lock-in to open source helps them be companies that people are proud to work with and for.