Shedding light on the dark side

Ian Taylor of Dunedin's Animation Research admits he's a partial convert to the Microsoft way of thinking.

Ian Taylor (pictured) of Dunedin’s Animation Research admits he’s a partial convert to the Microsoft way of thinking.

Computerworld spoke to Taylor after an address at an “open house” for Microsoft’s New Zealand “innovation centre”, where projects had been developed to “proof of concept” stage.

Asked whether structures like the Microsoft centre risk diverting the government and New Zealand ICT companies down a proprietary path, Taylor says companies like his “use what works”.

Animation Research had that debate “six or seven years ago”, he says, when it realised there would be benefits in moving away from Unix on larger processors to Microsoft-dominated PCs.

“Our staff came from a long programming tradition that considered Microsoft to be ‘the dark side’, and we had a lengthy debate about that.”

Now, he says, ARL sees some of the advantages of moving over, in the shape of innovative Microsoft software. A recent 19-year-old recruit to the company told his colleagues the animations they were doing for a particular project could be done far more quickly using ASP .Net and Visual Studio .Net, and he was proved to be right, says Taylor.

“Our own software is proprietary. In moving it to Microsoft, you could say we were shifting away from a proprietary environment at least to something that a lot of other people use.”

The centre demonstrates how public- and private-sector companies can work together on IT projects, something Taylor is keen on.

He once told a television reporter in the wake of the Prime Minister’s innovation policy speech last year that it was hard to say “innovation” and “government” in the same sentence. He also talked about the constructive help of bodies like Industry New Zealand and the Foundation for Research Science and Technology, but the negative comment was the only remark that was broadcast, he says.

These days, he says we should be taking every opportunity to link the two.

“We’re beginning to break them [government and its attitude] down,” he says.

Government obviously has to work within certain constraints, including being rather risk-averse, because it is dealing with taxpayers’ money. But recent discussions, including a visual simulation project he refuses to talk about publicly because a contract has not yet been signed, indicate real communications have opened up, he says.

“We have parts of the puzzle,” says Taylor, who is a member of the government’s ICT working party.

“Government has other parts,” he says. “At times it seems we can’t get anyone to listen, and we want to say ‘just listen to us. Then if you like, you can tell us why you can’t do it.’ There have to be innovative ways of further breaking down the barriers,” he says.

“We should be taking every opportunity to put ‘government’ and ‘innovation’ in the same sentence.”

In his move closer to Microsoft, Taylor does, though, admit to a feeling of uneasiness when downloading the vendor’s software and being asked to supply his name, address, phone number and email address “to someone I don’t really know”.

Now that Linux has made a breed of Unix popular and available on $2000 machines, would he be likely to change back? The situation changes all the time, he says.

“We may do some stuff in Linux at some point.”

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