Microsoft stretches ‘open’ definition, IoT doesn’t need more such initiatives

Microsoft and BMW’s announcement at Hannover Messe was the launch of the Open Manufacturing Platform (OMP), where the pair called form more partners to sign on, to create more reference designs that can run on Microsoft’s Azure platform. In the past few years, we’ve been pretty pro-Microsoft, but something about this has stuck in our craw.

This would be an open platform if it could run on other cloud platforms, but currently, it can’t. This means that it is only ‘open’ if you are an Azure customer, and that’s not exactly open as in open source. There’s been no mention of Microsoft porting the OMP over to AWS or GCP, or any of the plethora of more niche-focused platforms like Siemens or PTC. Instead, we’re slapped with a pretty misleading bit of branding – Open Manufacturing Platform certainly has a better ring to it than Azure Reference Designs, after all.

This sort of positioning is not something the IoT needs. As a trend, the IoT has suffered through marketing bluster, over-promising and under-delivering, on both scale and sophistication. Our view is that this is a slow, evolutionary technology, but if you listen to the marketers and PR types, the IoT was the next big thing and has been a success.

Of course, we know that this is not the case. We are decades away from anything approaching full maturity in such a market, and this hype has been to the detriment of the market. C-Level types have had enthusiasm turn to skepticism, and the marketers have already turned to hotter, fresher buzzwords. They’ve already pretty much run ‘blockchain’ into the ground, ‘AI’ is going much the same way, and woe-betide and outsider who wants a balanced opinion on ‘5G,’ when they inevitably run into a slide deck fashioned by these types.

So then, we’ll concede that we’re pretty jaded by the misuse of terms such as ‘open’ and ‘seamless,’ and add that Microsoft has been pretty pro-open source in recent years, so we have some trust that the firm isn’t going to significantly abuse the term. Gone are the days when leadership publicly referred to Linux as a cancer, after all.

The OMP comes after close collaboration between the two firms these past few years, where BMW has been using Microsoft’s services to power some of its industrial manufacturing operations. These processes have now effectively been turned into reference designs, which the pair now say could be used by other members of the OMP.

This would require other companies to sign up though, and the two are hoping that the announcement will generate some interest in the alliance. More members should equal more contributed reference designs, so as long as you are not Microsoft-averse, the OMP could prove a rich resource.

Microsoft is calling for community members to work together to solve common problems, but it is not clear if there is some kind of mechanism to ensure that members have to commit to such a request. The membership contract might specify something along those lines, but from the outside, if this is as open as the pair proclaims, there’s nothing stopping you from using the reference designs while contributing nothing back to the OMP.

Of course, using the reference designs would equate to revenue for Microsoft, so perhaps the firm shan’t care much at all about this problem. Aiming to snare four to six new members by the close of the year, Microsoft would love to see member companies make use of the 15 use cases it has made available to date, but we can’t really see what BMW is getting out of this. Perhaps this is the best evidence that this is an altruistic initiative after all, as BMW can’t monetize these designs directly, but we will treat the new project with some skepticism in the meantime.