Microsoft software designed specifically to run on open source platforms such as Linux could be closer to reality than previously thought, according to comments made by the head of Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) on Monday.
Stuart Cohen, OSDL's chief executive, claimed that it was quite likely that Microsoft would begin developing applications to run on open source platforms in the near future.
"I would not be surprised to see them [Microsoft] participate in software that runs on top of Linux in the future," he said.
Cohen added that proprietary software development was enormously important to the future of Linux and open source software, and that they would continue to co-exist. "There is an opportunity for a tremendous amount of software, mostly proprietary but some open source, to be developed on Linux. Proprietary continues to grow and grow rapidly," he said.
Cohen's comments come at a time when the hard battle lines between Microsoft and the open source community appear to be softening. Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer recently met with Red Hat chief executive Matthew Szulik for more than an hour at a McCormick & Schmick's restaurant in New York.
And in late May Microsoft hired Daniel Robbins, the founder and former chief architect of Gentoo Linux, one of the most popular and highly regarded Linux distributions.
Cohen was speaking to the Commonwealth Technology Forum (CTF) in West London, via a live video link to his office in Portland, Oregon.
Cohen decided not to appear at the conference in person because of concerns about security following the terrorist attack on London last Thursday. "Following 9/11 I was outside of my home for five days, so my wife wasn't keen on me being in London at the moment," he explained.
The OSDL also announced that it is setting up its first European facility in Luxemburg to promote open source in Europe. The company already has offices in Oregon and Tokyo, recently added one in Beijing and hopes to have around 100 different member companies in the organisation by the end of this year.
Cohen said that setting up a European office would enable the OSDL to help stimulate local economies in the region in the same way it had done in Asia. "When I think about Linux and open source it is about collaborating all across the world," he said.
Cohen comments followed an earlier speech by Microsoft's UK chief executive Alistair Baker who tried to downplay the threat of open source to Microsoft's ability to sell into developing markets such as China and Africa. "What it comes down to at the end of the day is whether the technology is up to the job. We have seen people who have gone to open source for development eventually come back to us," he said.
CTF was intended to highlight the importance of information technology to emerging or developing countries.