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Dinner with Microsoft

by Matt Lee Contributions Published on Mar 05, 2009 02:54 PM
Microsoft comes to the Boston area, like a bad uninvited dinner guest in this guest blog by Mark Northfist.

When you visit Microsoft's web site for New England Research & Development Center you don't get a sense that it is a part of a 30 year old multinational proprietary corporation with a bad track record when it comes to user freedom and community support. In fact, the site could be called hip and sleek, with an emphasis on small teams, the local community, and innovative research. The site shows pictures of the new office, which features glass walls that don equations painted on them. Almost weekly they are featuring meetups for the tech community at their office, and they are clearly putting money and effort into local collaborations with MIT, museums, and other organizations. And, despite laying off hundreds elsewhere in their organization, they are actively recruiting to their Cambridge office, with an advertisement campaign that takes over multiple subway stations in the Cambridge area.

But, we aren't fooled. As one local Blogger puts it, Hey Microsoft, welcome! I know you have a history of anti-trust activities and monopolization, so why don’t you go ahead and show us your friendly new image by taking over every square inch of advertising real estate in Harvard Square!

Microsoft wants to recruit the brightest minds out of the graduate schools of MIT, Harvard, and other prestigious New England schools and to provide them with an environment that feels open and similar to an academic institution. Their claim is that they are 'Turning Ideas Into Reality.' But what is the Microsoft reality? Treacherous Computing, Digital Restrictions Management technologies, backdoors, system updates without your permission, deletion of software without your permission, non-disclosure agreements, and licenses that attempt to push the boundaries of international to maximize their control over your devices and to minimize your freedoms.

So, don't be fooled by Microsoft's smoke and mirrors act. Their goal is to funnel ideas into products that aim to restrict users and that ultimately hinder the progress of the useful arts and sciences. Their images of a warm and sharing community with glass on the walls may try to evoke pure and romantic images of brilliance, such as in the movie *A Beautiful Mind* when John Nash is depicted drawing equations on the windows in the Princeton library. But the image of glass walls at Microsoft evokes a very different image in my mind, such as the first scene in the *Silence of the Lambs* when Detective Clarice Starling conducts an interview through a glass cell with the brilliant psychiatrist and incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer, Hannibal Lecter.

So, think twice before strolling over to Microsoft Research for evening community meet-up session. Dinner with Microsoft is like dinner with Hannibal Lecter, it might provide you with many a stimulating and intellectual conversation, but, you have to ask yourself, what was their real motivation in inviting you over?

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