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World's toughest jobs: Microsoft's interoperability chief

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Interop He's faced with the unenviable task of convincing the world that Microsoft wants to play nicely with competitors - and also convincing the troops and top management that it's worth it.

"It's a mixed bag," said Tom Robertson, general manager of interoperability and standards at Microsoft, when asked after his keynote at Interop 2007 in New York how company employees feel about his mission. "Everyone has to recognize … that there is a cultural shift going on."

Many critics have attackedMicrosoft's Open XML format and recently approved OSI licenses as neither open nor useful to the open source community.But Redmond's role in more than 2,500 open source projects, 85 shared source programs, and opening up of more than 35 APIs, data formats and web service, virtualization and anti-spam specifications cannot be overlooked.

Microsoft remains a gated community, but it's far from the impenetrable fortress it was in the past, according to Robertson.

"It's not a perfect world. It will never be a perfect world. But things have changed radically," he proclaimed.

Robertson arrived at Interop just days after the third meeting of Microsoft's Interoperability Executive Council, a group of senior CIOs, who have lobbied Microsoft for better interoperability in security, identity, developer tools and run-times, office automation, iWorker collaboration, systems management and public policy.

Microsoft says it has already solved, or is on the road to solving, more than 60 per cent of these issues in a short time. Next up: federated identity. Customers in the US include the Weather Channel, and elsewhere, Intervet Innovation of the Netherlands.

Robertson acknowledged that the "clash of business models" among rivals makes some interoperability demands untenable. But he insisted that the efforts must continue to have "material benefit" to customers or it's a waste of time.

"MS hasn't solved all of the problems. It never will. It's not about Microsoft in any event. As long as you have innovation in the IT industry, you will have interoperability challenges," he said. "But we're going down the tight path. It's a journey and we'll need to make adjustments based on community but generally we feel like we're going in the right direction."

Robertson may be a little disingenuous about the cause of the woes, but he thinks he has stumbled on the holy grail that keep upper management convinced of his cause.

"We learned that a lot of interoperability issues are due to competitive dynamics in the marketplace." and we also found that there's a lot of opportunity for collaboration and for members to come together in a very profitable way to address the issues." ®

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