"Change is inevitable. Change is constant."
Benjamin Disraeli quotes (British Prime Minister and Novelist. 1804-1881)
A year ago, Microsoft had launched Zune. Bad reviews coupled with direct comparisons with market leader Apple's IPod didn't help either. Microsoft bashing has been a favourite sport of technology writers and I couldn't resist from writing a sarcastic piece about Microsoft's Zune - The IPod Killer. However, looking at the big picture, Zune may or may not have bombed but Zune has proved something terrific happening at Microsoft and that is "innovation" and "looking beyond windows". In December 2006, Business Week did a story on a similar theme about the "The soul of a new microsoft" emphasising on how the new leaders like Ballmer and Co are looking beyond Windows. To put this in perspective we need to rewind back to 2005.
2004-5 - The windows opened
It was around 2004-5 when Microsoft decided to open Windows and let fresh air come in, literally. Changing times and changing tech markets dictate a different logic than what was true maybe five years ago. The tech world is changing onto a collaborative platform and noteworthy is its alliance with Sun, warming up to Open Source Community, reported approaching of Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), emphasis on new product line and more. The year now is 2007 and within 2 years the changes implemented can be visibly seen. Microsoft's partnership with Sun further strengthened last month with an optimistic Forbes seeing this as Sun Streams through Windows (never mind about the standards spat). The global emphasis on innovation, looking beyond Windows and the changes that were initiated globally can now be seen flowing down to India and the new face of Microsoft can be witnessed right here and perhaps in places it was least likely to be seen before.
Innovation from and for India
Last week Microsoft announced a series of measures emphasising innovation from, for and with India. In terms of substance besides a series of announcements accentuating innovation from India there is also setting up of its first Interoperability Lab in India, which they say is "designed to help customers envision and build solutions which are interoperable" and Open Source Technology Program "designed to further open source research and development of open source applications on the Windows platform" in collaboration with leading engineering institutes in the country.
An eco-system for local innovation
In others words, a company which till recently was high on proprietary software is now actually breeding an eco system of innovation, getting the local academia, scholars and regional interests involved. Noteworthy is Open Source which till a few years ago was pariah is now actually being encouraged in the Open Source Technology Program of Microsoft which encourages student projects across diverse research areas such as Interoperability between Windows and Linux platforms, mobile and embedded devices applications, Web and database applications on Windows, High performance computing applications etc. In other words, innovation and more innovation and that too at a local level.
Innovation in India - catch them young
Why this sudden emphasis in India? Perhaps, the answer likes in the industry trend. Worldwide India is being seen an innovation hub across the globe. Technology giants are pouring money like never before and the "catch them young" and "go rural" seems to be the mantra. Tech giants Intel under its "World Ahead Programme" and others under similar programs are looking at "young talent" and "rural base" in a huge way. It's probably the area where the future profits and new innovations are seen in plenty.
Microsoft is doing the same. Scouting student talent through "Imagine Cup" or getting into the academics through "Scholar versus Scholar Program" or trying to connect to students and teachers through programmes like "Digital Study Hall".
Innovation from India
It has been reported that Indian bases of international companies have one of the most impressive records in terms of innovation worldwide. Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy Officer, Microsoft Corporation reportedly commented "Indian IT companies have done a super job innovating from India to serve global clients."
In Microsoft's case consider the following track record of Microsoft India Development Center which puts into perspective the emphasis of innovation in India. MIDC's projects include work on Longhorn Server, Microsoft's Data Protection Manager, also the Microsoft RFID platform was successfully incubated here and the virtualisation team released Virtual PC 2007. On the rural front things like "Windows Multi-point technologies" such as "Split Windows" where multi Windows operating systems can be operated on a single system are innovations with a strong Indian accent.
The last word
In this age and time the world revolves around innovation. The speed at which technology metabolism happens leaves even the biggest innovators in awe. A couple of years ago how many would believe Microsoft would be treading the path it is treading now. Yet it is a fact. If "multi point technologies" can be a reality hopefully soon we should also get to see more of cross platform applications. Microsoft and others seems to be engaging an entire generation into innovation. Only time will tell what the next mobile and embedded devices application will be, or what web and database applications will change the future of business, hopefully across platforms.
(Puneet Mehrotra writes on business and technology issues www.thebusinessedition.com )