Microsoft We love open source Part Ii
“But also realize that this is a relationship among individuals, not among companies at all. That’s one of the best things I find about open source development, the companies are not involved, it’s all personal relationships in the end.”
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Microsoft needs to extend relationship with Linux, some say
Microsoft is only “dabbling” in open source at this point, argues Matt Asay, chief operating officer of Ubuntu Linux vendor Canonical, in a column for The Register.
“One big bet Microsoft should make is on open source, the tool of the underdog, a label that is coming to fit the Redmond giant,” Asay says.
Microsoft “needs to go deep on Linux,” not by replacing Windows with Linux but by “acquiring Novell’s SUSE Linux business and focusing it completely on mobile,” Asay argue (though perhaps he simply wants Microsoft to take out one of his competitors).
“Open source offers the company a way to keep its Windows and Office billions while charting a course toward its next one or more billion-dollar businesses. It’s a big bet, but given its failures with KIN and Zune, it’s about time for Microsoft to take a much bigger risk on open source,” Asay concludes.
Whether Microsoft dives deeper into open source is an open question, but one prominent voice in software says the war between Microsoft and open source is a thing of the past, in part because Microsoft could not destroy open source even if it wanted to.
“The battle is over,” Mitch Kapor, who founded Lotus Software, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Open Source Applications Foundation, and helped create the Mozilla Foundation, said in a Guardian article last year.
“At the detailed level, there are a million issues to work out — but will open source kill software? Nobody’s saying that,” Kapor also said at the time.
Microsoft can gain from Oracle’s missteps
Microsoft has an opportunity to boost its reputation among open source proponents in part because of public relations mistakes by Oracle, which as noted earlier is ending the OpenSolaris project and suing Google over use of Java.
The unfortunate thing for Oracle is that it has previously embraced Linux by belonging to open source organizations, contributing to the Linux code and supporting Linux in the enterprise, Lyman says. In the case of the Java lawsuit, Oracle appears publicly to be attacking the open source community at large, even though its specific target is Google.
The Oracle moves do make Microsoft look good by comparison, Lyman says.
“This is good for Microsoft, that Oracle is being talked about as a foe of open source software,” he says. “A lot of observers see similar behavior from Oracle that is the stuff that got Microsoft in trouble. Oracle probably could have done a better job of making sure nobody thought they were attacking open source.”
Going forward, Microsoft will still struggle to balance the needs of its licensing business against the risk of appearing too litigious. “I think [Microsoft is] aware that the wrong legal action could lead to a more widespread response,” Lyman says.
Microsoft doesn’t have a single official who oversees all of its open source initiatives (unless you count CEO Ballmer). “Microsoft’s open source initiative is a shared responsibility across the organization, and more than 150 people across the company play a critical role in strengthening collaboration efforts among the open source community,” a Microsoft spokesperson says.
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But Microsoft has multiple projects that embrace open source and a dedicated Web site detailing its open source projects and goals.
On the virtualization front, Microsoft has clashed with VMware, the maker of proprietary virtualization software, but partnered with Citrix, which sells technology based on the Xen open source hypervisor.
Paoli notes several initiatives that illustrate Microsoft’s commitment to open source and open standards. Microsoft helped create OData, the Open Data Protocol, which uses Web technologies to “free” data from applications that might otherwise lock it up. Microsoft also recently expanded the CodePlex Foundation to encourage development of open source.
Microsoft’s Windows Azure team has also provided software development kits for developers who use PHP and Java, not just for its own proprietary .NET Framework.
In the end, Microsoft’s embrace of open source principles will only go so far. It’s highly unlikely that Windows will ever become an open source operating system. Microsoft is making targeted moves that bolster its open source reputation in response to real market demands. If Microsoft continued to shun open source completely, it would have lost existing customers and potentially new opportunities for growth.
In a time when Microsoft is no longer the world’s most valuable tech company — that title, measured by stock performance, is now held by Apple — Steve Ballmer can’t afford to ignore a market force as large as the one posed by open source.
Interoperability among many technologies, which often involves integration with open source software, is what customers are demanding, Paoli says. Those demands will only grow more strong because of the proliferation of cloud computing and the vendor lock-in concerns cloud computing has created and amplified.
“We know that organizations are running a mixed IT environment,” Paoli says. “They all have Windows and Linux and IBM. They all told us that connectivity, interoperability are key, and flexibility, to choose what want to use and when they want to use it.”
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