The big news of late is that Microsoft has announced that the open-source jQuery JavaScript library will soon be bundled with .NET and Visual Studio.  More than that, they announced that they would actually support jQuery: if you run into a bug, you can call up Microsoft support just the same as you would for any other .NET bug.  They’ll also be providing improved Intellisense support for the library.  This is a brilliant strategy.  Microsoft has taken a great product, adopted it, and provided additional value on top of it.  If only the rest of Microsoft would smarten up and follow that lead…

Let’s look at Internet Explorer.  Five years ago, this was by far the dominant browser; there wasn’t anything else that was even close.  Fast forward to today, and the landscape has changed: Firefox is steadily chewing up market share, and Google is jumping in to the fight with Chrome.  Why is this happening?  Well, to be blunt, Internet Explorer is an inferior product.  Its rendering engine is buggy, and even the new-and-improved IE 8 is going to come out of the gates with the worst JavaScript performance of any of the contenders.  Mark my words, IE 8 will do nothing to reverse the current trend: Google and Mozilla will continue to gain market share in the browser wars at the expense of Microsoft and Internet Explorer.

So what is Microsoft to do?  In most markets, if your competitor puts out a better product than you, you have only a couple of options: lower your price to make your product more attractive, or build a better product.  Well, you can’t go lower than "free", and building a better browser than the competitors is *hard*, especially when you have the baggage of seven previous versions of Internet Explorer.  But in this case, there’s actually a third option: take your competitor’s product and add value on top of it.  That’s what Microsoft is doing with jQuery, and that’s what they should be doing with Firefox.  They could put a custom skin on top of it, maybe throw in some add-ons to allow it to switch easily to IE7-mode in order to maintain backwards compatibility, integrate it strongly with Microsoft Live… who knows, but I’m sure they could come up with some cool ways to make the Microsoft version of Firefox a compelling choice. 

Microsoft is in real danger of falling behind on several fronts right now.  Internet Explorer is a mess; Open Office (and their widely-supported formats) are a threat to Microsoft Office; and Linux and Mac OS each have strengths (and weaknesses) that Windows doesn’t have.  Instead of trying to compete so fiercely with open-source, why not try to leverage it to build better products?