Microsoft Corp. extended an olive branch to some of its harshest critics Tuesday by proposing a way for Internet users to "cut and paste" live Web data across different sites, just as they can between computer programs.
Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief technical officer, told a conference of top Web developers here that his company wants to openly license a simple technology for sharing data between Web and computer programs — whether Microsoft-controlled or not. (MSNBC.com is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)
"Live Clipboard," as the concept technology is known, would take the widely used clipboard feature common to many computer programs and extend it to the Web, allowing users to share organized data between Web sites or move it into PC programs.
In a slide show demonstration, Ozzie showed how users could simply cut and paste complex structured information from one Web site to another, or move the same data, preserving its formatting, to programs running on Windows desktop computers.
He copied personal contact information out of his computer address book into an online shopping checkout page, filling out the order processing pages in a quick gesture, for example.
"It allows the user to copy structured information from one place to another in a non-geeky fashion," Ozzie told roughly 1,000 programmers and Web developers attending the O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference under way here this week.
The O'Reilly conference is an intellectual hothouse for Web developers who gather each year to debate how best to build a new generation of collaborative software based on open source software principles that pose a big challenge to Microsoft.
Striking a decidedly humbler tone than older generations of Microsoft executives, Ozzie showed how his Web-sharing prototype can work on a variety of non-Microsoft Web sites.
To emphasize his point, Ozzie used the open source Firefox browser rather than Microsoft's own Internet Explorer browser.
"It's impressive stuff," said Doc Searles, a co-author of iconoclastic marketing manual "The Cluetrain Manifesto" and a leading open source advocate. "It shows the amount of change that has occurred in Microsoft management."
Sam Ruby, an IBM engineer who is director of the Apache Software Foundation, whose open source software is widely used to run Web servers, also said he was keen to give the Web clipboard software a try, but still needed to be convinced of Microsoft's commitment to open standards.
Ozzie copied a calendar entry from the independent event listings Web site Eventful and pasted it into that his Outlook calendar, moving not just text, but all of the appropriate elements that made up the full appointment entry.
In a more dramatic attempt to impress the geeky audience, Ozzie took location-tracking data that appears on his personal blog that monitors his movements via his cell phone and pasted it onto the page of youthful social networking site Facebook.
He then copied an updating list of his contacts from Facebook into a Microsoft Web-based mapping application and the locations of his contacts immediately appeared as flags on the map. Ozzie posted an example on his .
Ozzie said he conceived the idea a month ago while mulling the history of how computer user interaction had evolved over the past two to three decades. He asked a project team including his brother, Jack Ozzie, to implement his idea.
Microsoft also plans to freely license the software under the Creative Commons license, requiring only that Microsoft receive attribution for its work and that any improvements to the code are shared with other developers.
"It's a little gift to the Web," he said.