MS platform chief: closed-mindedness about open source continues

While Microsoft has been increasingly tip-toeing into open source via SourceForge projects, Shared Source licenses and Linuxlab, getting to this place where Open Source is no longer considered a pejorative by Microsoft has been a slow and deliberate process that must be massaged both internally and externally.At Microsoft, that massaging is an unwritten part of Bill Hilf's job description.

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While Microsoft has been increasingly tip-toeing into open source via SourceForge projects, Shared Source licenses and Linuxlab, getting to this place where Open Source is no longer considered a pejorative by Microsoft has been a slow and deliberate process that must be massaged both internally and externally.

At Microsoft, that massaging is an unwritten part of Bill Hilf's job description. Hilf, who is general manager of platform strategy for the company that so many open sourcers can't even utter without a snicker, described these challenges during a presentation yesterday at the OSCON Open Source Convention in Portland.

"We are learning from open source both internally as well from the ecosystem of that," Hilf said. "Part of our process involves deciding how do we compete and find activities for open source."

Even getting to this point hasn't been easy for Microsoft, a company whose CEO, Steve Ballmer, has publicly likened Open Source to cancer. 

"Over the past three or four years Linux and open source were something we were fearful of. We had a variety of blunt instruments, and so what a lot of people saw on the outside was Microsoft getting on the same page," Hilf added. 

What he meant by "getting on the same page" was that even though there was not a unanimous consensus at Microsoft that open source was evil and should never be looked at as a technology strategy, there were some internal movements to lightening up things a bit. Yet although Hilf didn't say this directly, I got the impression he meant to say that Microsoft didn't want various opinions about Open Source to get out- lest they were taken as internal disagreement or vacillation rather than the possibility-vetting that was really going on.

"Alternatively, over time we have learned and gotten smarter," Hilf added. "We understand how and why and what the ripple effect is if we want to do something cooperatively.

Hilf admitted though, that Microsoft "had a loud voice around the subject. In many cases, that loud voice polarized people."

Hmm, "loud voice," "blunt instrument"- a mercurial CEO, perhaps? That'd be Steve Ballmer? (upper left).

Hilf added that his staff of more than 20 developers at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash. headquarters and some 100 others throughout the globe spend a good bit of their time on open source-related issues. But despite these efforts, there still is what Hilf describes as "closed-mindedness." It goes both ways. 

"We are dealing with close mindedness inside and outside," Hilf said. He described a general feeling he has received in which people have very negative feeling about Microsoft as a brand "because they hate the fact that Bill Gates makes money. They hate the capitalistic remnants of Microsoft.

"I (also) deal internally with close-mindedness about open source," Hilf admitted.  "Microsoft is full of good engineers who are interested in new things, but in terms of communicating why open source adds value and the pros and cons of that, close-mindedness is at least frustrating is if not difficult."

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