Microsoft: the mixed fruit of maturity

Seven years ago, Microsoft was a byword for buggy software. Its codebase was a notorious happy hunting ground for delinquent virus writers. The “Summer of Worms” in 2003, when the Blaster, Welchia and Sobig malware wreaked havoc, turning computer viruses into kitchen table conversation topics, is now a distant memory.
For, in 2002, Microsoft launched its Trustworthy Computing Initiative. Redmond’s programmers were stood down, and put through an extended boot camp in secure coding. One outcome of that was the Vista operating system, drum tight in its security (well, nearly – there is no such thing as 100% security).
It would be churlish not to acknowledge Microsoft’s achievements in the realm of secure code. We report on these in this issue. George Stathakopoulos, general manager for TwC at Microscope points to an undeniably significant reduction in vulnerabilities (that its, duff code). Vista was 70% better than XP in this regard.
Moreover, Microsoft’s reputation has improved among IT professionals. Stathakopoulos says he cannot recall the last customer who expressed a preference for Linux on security grounds. However, as we also report in this issue, the cost of doing a great job on security has been manifest elsewhere in Microsoft’s ecosystem. Its code is now rather too secure, possibly, for its own good.
Security features of Internet Explorer 8, Cliff Saran reports, causes 15% of web-based enterprise applications to fail. IE8, we warn, could cause some enterprise applications that use browser-based user interfaces to fail.
SAP has begun compatibility testing, but is presently minded to recommend IE6 or IE7. And an Oracle senior executive has warned that IE8 will impact his firm’s E-Business Suite enterprise software.
Has the Trustworthy Computing Initiative all been in vain then? Is Microsoft’s mixed fortunes in security of a piece with the serious emergence of open source software in the public sector, software as a service displacing fully purchased and licensed models, and the explosion of Netbook computers, driven by Linux?
It is too early to draw that conclusion. Even Microsoft’s recent profit fall and lay offs hardly announce the beginning of the end for a company with $20.7 billion dollars in cash. It’s a mature company in a maturing industry, and we report this week on the mixed fruit of that maturity.