Microsoft and open source: Frost sightings in hell

Microsoft and open source: Frost sightings in hell

Summary: In a guest post, Stephen Walli -- a software consultant specializing in open-source, and a former Microsoft program manager for the Shared Source implementation of the ECMA Common Language Infrastructure -- shares his two cents on Microsoft's recent open-source-related moves.


(This is a guest post by Stephen Walli, a software consultant specializing in open-source, and a former Microsoft program manager for the Shared Source implementation of the ECMA Common Language Infrastructure.)

Bill Hilf, Microsoft General Manager of Platform Strategy, announced two things last week at the O'Reilly Open Source Conference in Portland. First Microsoft will be taking two of its "Shared Source" branded licenses to the Open Source Initiative for approval as full fledged "open source" licenses. Second, they have built a web site to act as the gateway to Microsoft thinking on open source software.

I'm fairly ambivalent on the license announcement. Does the world really need two more vanity licenses? (No) Isn't Microsoft sort of late to the party? (Yes) Does it really matter if the OSI approves the licenses when they clearly meet the OSI open source definition? (No) As a global player will Microsoft update the licenses away from U.S. copyright language before submission, borrowing from the lessons learned in the free software world? (One could hope, but probably not. The legal team is too fearful.)

The web site is also a bit of an odd thing. It's no where near as rich in information or resource as the Shared Source site with it's deliberate ignorance of free and open source software. It's not as deep in materials as the old "Commercial Software Initiative" with its (possibly willful) misunderstandings about "open source and free software" licensing and commercial solutions. It's not as bright and bold as the "Get the Facts" campaign. But then it's new. Time will tell if Microsoft "gets it" and so gets the site right.

The "frost sightings" refer to something much more important that's been building that Bill pointed to in his keynote. Microsoft is finally joining the community.

I gave Hilf a hard time a year ago over the lack of real engagement in the community. Publishing licenses, signing partnership agreements with companies, and putting up web sites is not "doing open source". It's all about contribution in community. We forgive IBM no end of missteps (deliberate and otherwise) because at the end of the day they contribute software and lots of it. Hilf finally started talking about the code contributions Microsoft is making in his keynote.

Almost more important than the code, however, is the evolution of the understanding of software community. Read Lam's (short) post at the very least. He very clearly articulates how they will accept changes back now, and more importantly how they'll get to the better place in the future.

Rob Mensching's WiX project has been happily accepting changes back ever since it started in Spring 2004, but WiX isn't shipping on the core revenue stream. When we released Rotor in Spring 2002, we deliberately ignored the first two incredible contributions we received in the first 48 hours after release. Oddly enough, the community stopped contributing. It was willful on our part and we knew what the result would be, but frustrated as the Rotor team was there was no way past the concerns raised from above over IP taint at that time.

In Spring 2003, we discussed releasing the code base to Monad (the new PowerShell). The engine would be shipping on the Windows distribution, however, and this was immediately after the near Java injunction. If we released all the code, but only accepted changes outside the engine, concerns were raised that this might be too confusing coming from Microsoft. We passed up the chance. (To be clear, the Windows executive in charge really wanted to release it, but the Java injunction was too close and raw.)

Zander makes reference in his post to the pain of releasing IronPython. I've great confidence in that fact. Jim Huginin joined Microsoft as I was preparing to leave. I was part of the early discussions around licensing out IronPython and Jim was in the thick of it. It took them another year to get it out the door.

With the amount of software Developer Division is publishing as promiscuously as possible, we can only hope that the tipping point is being reached inside Microsoft when culturally they finally accept and embrace the greatest opportunity in their history to revitalize the Windows franchise.

Now we need to get Microsoft to say "free software" without gagging.

Read more from Walli on his blog, Once More Unto the Breach.

Topics: Microsoft, Open Source, Software


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Does <i>anyone</i> with a clue trust Microsoft?

    From Groklaw:
    Henry Miller
    • Oh, just 90% of the worlds

      PC users. ;-)
      • RE:90% of the world(s)

        [b]"...anyone with a clue..."[/b]

        "PC users" :) clueless? ;)
      • That 90% of the world's PC users...

        ...have passively accepted the Windows preloaded onto machines they've puchased--preloads to which no alternative is offered due to Microsoft's scheming and illegal behaviour--in no way suggests that people trust Microsoft. My guess is that 90% of that 90% simply don't care what the underlying OS is long as mail, browsing, music, and the like all work. In all likelihood, that 90% of 90% don't have a clue how morally bankrupt their OS provider is and have little interest in finding out--which name shows up on the splash screen when they boot their machines just isn't that important to them.
        Henry Miller
        • And the more people that think like that...

          ...the longer will Microsoft's dominance remain, because it means open source will continue to ignore the real reasons for Microsoft's dominance, and thus fail to make an adequate response to it.
          John Carroll
          • RE: And the more people that think like that...

            [b]"..reasons for Microsoft's dominance, ...
            and thus [i]fail to make an adequate response[/i] to it."[/b]

            John, what response can be made to a monopoly?
            Isn't the 'response' the job of the 'DOJ'?

            It's funny how the so call expert never mention the word monopoly when
            speaking of M$ dominance. They seems to point you to some star in the sky,
            and then asked you if you see it. And if you don't see that star you are
            blind. ;)

            They must really think that 90% of the world is clueless.

            J.C., you should know better. :)
          • There are lots of "real reasons for Microsoft's dominance."

            Certainly a percentage of Windows users use it because they actually like it, and that's entirely their prerogative--<i>de gustibus</i> and all that stuff. And certainly, at least historically, Linux has had more appeal to techies than it has to typical Windows users.

            <p>The "Linux community" understands that and a significant number of us (not, by the way, including me--I'm an old-school CLI guy) are working on the "desktop"--viz Ubuntu--and I strongly suspect that a percentage of Windows users would find that one or another of the Linux desktops would meet their needs as well or better than Windows does.

            <p>But Microsoft has a long history of doing its best, by both legal and illegal means, to make it difficult for users to make an informed decision regarding a choice of desktops. That being the case, it's just about impossible to assess the adequacy of the response of the FOSS community in offering alternatives to Windows.

            <p>So, no, not all of us open-source people are determined to put 100% of the blame on Microsoft. We realise that "traditional" Linux isn't for everyone, that even "desktop-enhanced" Linux may not be for everyone. But as far as I'm concerned, Microsoft's consistently predatory, and sometimes criminal, behaviour has earned them a large portion of that blame.
            Henry Miller
          • RE: There are lots of ... reasons

            [b]"Certainly a percentage of Windows users use it because they actually
            [i]like it.[/i]"[/b]

            "Certainly a percentage of Windows users use it because they actually
            [b]'LEARN'[/b] to like it." :)

            All babies don't like Gerber, what are their options?, the baby can't talk, they
            take what's given to him/her. hence; they learn to like it. ;)
          • For the benefit of new or casual readers

            Don't you think you should prefix all your
            posts with "Microsoft Employee" or "Shill"?
            Ole Man
          • For The Benefit . . . .

            Shouldn't you label yours with 'troll'?

            After all, "Truth in Advertising" . . .
          • You first!

            Lead by example.
            Ole Man
      • LOL you gotta be kiddin' me

        Your a damn good comedian... Just because 90% of the PC's come preloaded with Windows doesn't mean all the users trust Microsoft. I bet if you asked 100 random people who used Windows (not MS employees or shills ;-} ) I imagine you'd get 90% <b>NOT</b> trusting them. <br><br>
    • Groklaw is a meaning less entity

      So why do people still continue to link to it?

      Sorta like saying "Look wht Jerry Springer said about Microsoft"

      If you want a story with an ABM slant, you go to groklaw. If you want to find out the truth, you go somewhere else, it's that simple.
      John Zern
      • Bias and fact

        [i]If you want a story with an ABM slant, you go to groklaw. If you want to find out the truth, you go somewhere else, it's that simple.[/i]

        I'm sure that's why it's cited by Federal courts in decisions as a resource.

        Nobody requires you to like PJ's views. On the other hand, if you think her facts are wrong by all means provide an example.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • Resources

          [i]I'm sure that's why it's cited by Federal courts in decisions as a resource.[/i]

          As are many things. Both sides of a case provide "experts".

          Paid Experts. "You don't support what we are going for, we don't hire you."

          If they don't hire you, you make no money.

          What do you [i]think[/i] they would say?
          John Zern
          • I notice..

            There's no example of PJ getting her facts wrong, which should be easy to do: unlike many others, when she makes a mistake, she admits and corrects it.
      • So if an "entity" has anything bad to say about Microsoft...'s "meaning less." The only "entities" that contain "meaning full" content are those that favor Microsoft?

        <p>That does not compute, Will Robinson."

        <p>And who's Jerry Springer and why should I, by your implication, be indifferent to his comments re Microsoft?
        Henry Miller
        • Not at all

          just provide a few example, as some do, from unbiased sources, not just the one source you allways know will respond to a particular entity in a certain way.
          John Zern
          • It doesn't work that way.

            You made the initial assertion that Groklaw was "meaningless." It's up to you to defend that statement by, for example, offering specifics to which I could respond. It's not up to me to try to guess what you meant and then respond to my own guesses.

            <p>What Groklaw provides is <i>opinion</i> based on legal analysis--it's not a source of fact. You seem to be insisting that I find and cite sources of opinion that agree with Groklaw--if so, the onus is at least equally on you to cite competent refutations to Groklaw's opinions.
            Henry Miller
          • As an aside . . .

            I don't know if you were being sarcastic or not, but Jerry Springer is/Was a Daytime talk show host of a show named after himself that seemed to specialize in 'Guests' would fight each other and usually there'd be at least one chair thrown per show. . . . :)