Saturday, 10 May 2008

"The Apprentice" and what it's got to do with the new "open" Microsoft

It’s funny how much publicity those “awful people” on TV Show The Apprentice are getting. Everyone appears to be as hooked on the show as I am.

This week’s edition featured the firing of TWO participants instead of the usual one, and it seems none of us can resist rushing to condemn the ejected wanna-be’s for their hypocrisy and general lack of any kind of ethics or moral backbone. Our businesses would never stoop to the levels these idiots displayed, or so the story goes.

But it seems to me that most working in our industry should be looking at themselves in the mirror before rushing to pass judgement!

We work in an industry that produces software. The main value of that software is in its “intellectual property rights” since anybody can copy or duplicate the physical end results pretty much for free (and if everybody did that then we'd all be in serious trouble).

Yet when I look at the people I've worked with at numerous clients over the last 10 years I think I can count the number of people who DON’T download or buy pirate video’s, don’t “run off a copy of this or that MSDN disc from work so I can use it at home”, don’t use pirate software on the fingers of ... well, pretty much one finger!

Hypocrisy and double-standards are the norm. And dubious ethics now seem so engrained in the whole “culture” of software development I despair for the industry as a whole. But whenever I've brought this subject up in a forum or chat room I'm immediately dismissed as being a “sanctimonious old git”. Well pardon me, but I'd rather be considered sanctimonious than a thief! 'Sanctimonious' I can live with!

A couple of recent experiences really highlighted for me how the complete lack of ethics seems to have become the accepted norm in our industry.

At a recent user group meeting I was asked not to video a certain session because it contained details of a customer application that was ‘confidential’. The somewhat twisted logic seemed to go like this: “We have a confidentiality agreement with an end-client. It’s OK to break that in front of a large number of people in a room, but only if evidence doesn't become available in the form of video on the world wide web”.

Excuse me?! Did you sign a confidentiality agreement or not? If you don’t have the confidence to make the information available to all then why are you making it available to anyone? Confidentiality is NOT a grey area where the shade can be varied as seen fit. It’s a very simple 'black or white' area.

Another example... I keep reading that the “new” Microsoft is “transparent” and “open”. I'm hearing this not just from Microsoft, but from many bloggers whose work I admire and who help to make this industry a fun one to be in. Admittedly I have a bit of an axe to grind here – my experience at MIX08 (arguably the most “open” of all the Microsoft conferences) showed how “open” Microsoft are prepared to be depends on the size of the camera you’re carrying and how “on side” (and known to) the marketing people you really are. But if I read one more “lie” about how fabulously open and transparent Microsoft are from a so-called independent blogger I think I’ll puke!

In the last few days, I've been trying to find out the likely release date for a service pack for a Microsoft product. As a result I’ve been given information that should be in the public domain. The information is trivial and ideally would have appeared on one of the high profile Microsoft blogs as indicated it most likely would be earlier this week. If Microsoft were truly “open” and “transparent” it would have been.

But, presumably because it might (and I really emphasise the word “might”) be perceived in a negative light the information, about a very slight delay, once gleaned, invariably came with a single word prefix attached.

That prefix was the word “confidentially”.

What does that word mean?!

This is a situation I've found myself in MANY times over the last couple of years. Instead of just getting the information from the usual public places one has to ferret around through 'contacts' to get it. It's all so unnecessary and all it does is raise suspicion, uncertainty and doubt.

Microsoft apparently believes that giving information to the chosen few “confidentially” means it's being “open” and “transparent”! How much further do we want to blur the definitions about what these words mean before they become totally meaningless? And what does this Microsoft approach really achieve?!

From Microsoft’s viewpoint I guess it makes a few people feel “special”, and therefore perhaps more likely to spread company propaganda in future. But invariably cliques will grow as the “special” people wink and whisper to each other about what they know and others don’t, while suspicion, paranoia and a complete lack of trust results from those people not deemed “special”.

When Microsoft, and the blogging community as a whole, is much more honest about the conditions under which it’s revealing information (eg "Microsoft paid my flights for this event I'm blogging about", "Microsoft have suggested I restrict myself to the positive aspects of this product if I don't want to be bombarded with emails" etc etc) then maybe it can boast about being “transparent” and “open”.

But until then any such talk is just pissing in the wind.

And it makes those who talk about being open and transparent on the one hand, while colluding with Microsoft 'confidentially' on the other, no better in terms of ethics or morals than those people we're all so eager to criticise on 'The Apprentice'.

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