Microsoft’s Innovations That Aren’t

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Why does Microsoft call its big EU lobbying-party an Innovation Day? When a big company puts on a show in Brussels to get the ear of government, it seems more like business as usual to us

Today, Microsoft gathers several hundred of the EU elite to an Innovation Day in Brussels. It seems reasonable to ask what innovation there will be there.

Yes, there’s Microsoft’s Surface – aptly satirised on Youtube by SarcasticGamer as “a big-ass table” (and perhaps not the sprightliest answer to the iPhone). But the rest is given over to a crew of Microsoft partners who – from the online brochure, are very worthy, but don’t seem to have a lot new to say (but, non-Microsoft readers, please do tell me if you’re excited by anything there).

The programme has an ironic session on Intellectual Property – ironic because Microsoft is currently using its software patents to threaten the open source world in not-very specific terms. The current lawsuit against TomTom starts to get to specifics, but seems very clearly to be directed at stifling innovation.

It’s also ironic to see EU commissioners on the programme, given the EU’s history in nailing Microsoft as a monopolist.

But Microsoft, like most large creatures, does not “do” irony. In our interview, the European chair, Jan Muehlfeit stated proudly that 40 percent of the European IT industry is focused around Microsoft and its products. To him there was no inkling that this might be cause for concern. If that much of our IT infrastructure depends on one company, then it should be ringing warning bells and we should be asking for a bit more competition.

What Innovation Day shows is that Microsoft – thanks to owning 40 percent of the IT mindshare over here – has a lot of money to invest in making sure its hegemony continues.

It shows what a big marketing budget Microsoft has to back its case to the EU powers-that-be, that comes out, more or less, as: “Stick with us, and we’ll get you out of the recession – and save the world too.”

Again with no irony, Muehlfeit made a plea for “fairness” in the way the EU treats open source and Microsoft. “Make it a fair choice,” he says, pleading against “legislation” in favour of open source.

Is it possible that he is actually unaware that this vendor-funded lobying event could be seen as making things somewhat unfair? Brandishing its bucks like this, Microsoft is actually making a pretty good case for legislation in favour of open source. This powerful lobby, operating in the open makes it obvious that the public sector is getting swamped with one vendor’s message.