I got two pings yesterday from people curious about my IM away message, which said “At Microsoft”. That’s because I was at Microsoft. The Lugradio team were invited down to MS to talk to Nick McGrath, head of platform strategy for Microsoft UK, and a cast of thousands about open source software and how MS can engage with the community. It went…interestingly. We went on a tour of the building, which affirmed my belief that (if you don’t mind the ethical issue) Microsoft must be a great place to work; free drinks, decent chill-out area full of Xboxes and pool tables, nice outdoor lake with free ice-cream, all that sort of thing. Of course, you have to be OK with the idea of working for Microsoft. That aside, though, they do treat their staff very well. We also saw some demos of new-ish projects, like Vista and Office 12. However, the interesting part (and one I wish had gone on longer) was the discussion we had in the morning. They wanted to know more about how MS are perceived by the community and outline some of the things they’re doing to enhance interoperability. We…kicked back pretty hard on that point. The view that we put to them was that, for Microsoft, interoperability means one of two things: either “partner agreements” with specially anointed projects, or “we do what we like and you fit in with us” (as Michael Erskine reminded us, “there’s no U in interoperability”). the way to actual real proper interop is to open your protocols; that way, everyone can interoperate with you without you having to do any work. It means that I can choose Exchange as my mail and calendaring server without therefore having to choose Outlook (and therefore Windows) on the desktop. We hammered them pretty hard on this point, and I think the message got through. One chap who was there, Nick Barley (?), seemed to be pretty in-touch and in agreement. It was all very informal; surprisingly so, I thought. This is obviously a good thing, and as far as I could tell the fluffy clouds of niceness weren’t there to obscure barbed fish-hooks. They seemed genuine. Now, I certainly wasn’t expecting to go down there and convince Microsoft to Free the Windows source code in four hours, and I don’t know whether what we said will actually have any effect, but it was interesting nonetheless. I wish we’d had more time to continue the discussion, though.