Opening Doors to Interoperability

I had to write a freshman term paper on Immanuel Kant, and chose as a topic his role in sparking the German Enlightenment, from which I at least learned the word Aufklarung … which surprisingly doesn’t come up much in normal conversation, even when I’m in Germany. But I’ve been thinking about that movement and its ramifications quite a bit, because of the ongoing technology enlightenment driven by “open-source” approaches.

When I announced I was joining Microsoft, several of my friends in the open-source-software “movement” raised their eyebrows and ribbed me for joining the dark side… although the brighter ones also pointed out several important trends and markers through 2006 and 2007, changes in Microsoft behavior and approach which appeared to signal that the company was tacking in a much more open direction. Ray Ozzie’s joining of the company, and his announced projects, were taken as significant, along with several software launches (both in the Live world and elsewhere) with fundamentally open foundations.

Today the company is making public what Steve Ballmer and Ray Ozzie are calling “important changes to our technology and business practices that will enhance the interoperability of our products and expand the technical information we share with developers, partners, customers, and competitors.” All to the good, including more comprehensive information about the new “Interoperability by Design” approach.

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The Future of Army’s “Future Combat Systems”

Fact:  The U.S. Army is currently in the midst of a multi-year, $6 billion software development program which it says “dwarfs Microsoft Windows.”

Analysis: The Washington Post did a long piece on the U.S. Army’s gargantuan Future Combat Systems program today, not overly critical but quite skeptical. 

Some highlights of the program itself, which has its own comprehensive site maintained by the Army: 

  • FCS is the “Big Kahuna” of Army modernization, full-on system-of-systems;
  • It’s a $200 billion program, called the most thorough modernization of the Army since WWII;
  • All depends on a massive software development effort led by Boeing; 
  • The S/W development cost alone is around $6 billion (H/W costs are much larger, for the actual weapons, tanks, etc.).

When I was serving at the Defense Intelligence Agency, I was aware that (a) everyone associated with FCS had their fingers crossed and eyes closed when talking about it; (b) everyone not associated with it used the same tone of voice about FCS as they used about FBI’s Virtual Case File and NSA’s Trailblazer – two well-known large-scale failed technology programs.  Many people who know more about FCS than I do consider it a pipe-dream (here’s a good Heritage Foundation backgrounder on the program).  Yet the program continues to spend billions and the Army is slogging on with it.

So here’s what I really think about it: Continue reading

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