Author : Nick Krym

Microsoft and Plurk outsourcing debacle

If your goals are not achievable you can use them as targets. Sounds like a strange proposition? Well, look at Microsoft – everyone and their brother love to use it as a target of hate, criticism, etc. It’s human nature – to consider success of others as own failure. Fortunately, Microsoft never ceases to offer opportunities for harsh and well deserved criticism.

This time it’s quite amazing: as Plurk, a startup in micro-blogging sense, pointed in their blog “Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but blatant theft of code, design, and UI elements is just not cool, especially when the infringing party is the biggest software company in the world. Yes, we’re talking about Microsoft.”

As it turned our recently launched Microsoft service Juku borrowed much more than inspiration from Plurk, it used very much everything including source code.

Initially Microsoft seemed uncertain about what happened yet shortly after the news hit the blogosphere suspended Juku and issued apologies to Plurk. “Because questions have been raised about the code base comprising the service, MSN China will be suspending access to the Juku beta feature temporarily while we investigate the matter fully.” see more here.

Stuff happens, even with the best of us. No reason to beat the dead horse here. What is interesting and particular important for the topic of my blog is that the code theft appears to be linked to Microsoft outsourcing practices, see Microsoft Statement Regarding MSN China Joint Venture’s Juku Feature “The vendor has now acknowledged that a portion of the code they provided was indeed copied.”

I am sure that we’ll never know exactly what exactly happen. In my opinion the chances are that Microsoft outsourcing partner did something that we call R&D – rob and duplicate, and under pressures of budget / timelines / etc. did not even make efforts to cover its tracks. The theft most likely happen at a very low level of the food chain – maybe just a few developers removed from the MS headquarters by 100s of layers of corporate hierarchy, maybe a product manager making a misleading request “make it like Plurk”, it might have been simple translation error … never the less the giant company is now have to accept responsibility for the mistake that in its relative size to the company decision volume would be equivalent to a drop of water in a sea. I would not even attempt to put a price tag on this debacle… well someone in MS will have to.

Anyway, there is an important lesson here: do you know what your vendor is doing? Do you know whether code came from? Was there any lines borrowed from a competitor, innocent bystander, or open source? That issue is relevant to all your employees (something borrowed from a prior employer?), yet by far is much more serious when it comes to outsourcing.

I came across it on multiple occasions – from code to “research” produced by consultants. In many cases finding plagiarism was not difficult, I am sure that in many cases I missed it as well, especially if the contributor was smart enough to remove comments, or paraphrase.

As you can see from MS example that issue is of very serious of nature and should be of grave concern. Make sure that you educate your team and include plagiarism analysis in your code review process, at least on an occasional audit basis.

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