Microsoft must take an approach that favours and embraces the diversity of open source software or face oblivion, David Stutz, a departing Microsoft executive wrote in his farewell letter to the company.
Stutz, a respected technical thinker at Microsoft (MS), sees networked software as the future for computing.
He said that open source software was already there, while Microsoft still had to move past its PC-centric roots.
"If Microsoft is unable to innovate quickly enough, or to adapt to embrace network-based integration, the threat that it faces is the erosion of the economic value of software being caused by the open source software movement," Stutz wrote in the letter that he posted on his Web site. (http://www.synthesist.net/)
"Useful software written above the level of the single device will command high margins for a long time to come. Stop looking over your shoulder and invent something!" he wrote. "If the PC is all that the future holds, then growth prospects are bleak."
Stutz left Microsoft earlier this month. He held several key positions at the vendor including chief architect for Visual Basic and, most recently, was group program manager for Microsoft's Shared Source program, the company's answer to open source.
Microsoft said it was not uncommon for recently retired Microsoft employees to write an open letter. They offer "great fodder" for internal discussions, the company said.
"David Stutz has been an important contributor to Microsoft’s open source thinking and Microsoft agrees with much of the vision Dave (Stutz) has for the future," MS said. However, Microsoft added it believed that "breakthrough innovations will come mostly from commercial software companies such as Microsoft."
Stutz was concerned that efforts to recover from current poor perceptions of the company as "politically inept" (among other things) and a focus on being the lowest cost commodity software producer would lead to rule by managers and accountants at Microsoft rather than visionaries.
Microsoft's "denial" when it comes to networked computing is understandable because the company built its empire on the notion of the PC as the natural point for hardware and application integration. However, "network protocols have turned out to be a far better fit for this middleman role," Stutz said.
"Microsoft still builds the world's best client software, but the biggest opportunity is no longer the client," Stutz wrote. "It still commands the biggest margin, but networked software will eventually eclipse client-only software." MS products due out later this year, such as Windows Server 2003 and the successor to Office XP, will offer more networked features than the previous versions, according to the company.
The greatest threat to Microsoft was not the Linux operating system, but applications, Stutz warned. As the quality of open source software improved, there would no longer be a need for Microsoft's Office one-size-fits-all suite of applications, he wrote.
"Open source software is as large and powerful a wave as the Internet was," Stutz said. "Microsoft cannot prosper during the open source wave as an island, with defences built out of litigation and proprietary protocols."