Microsoft's open-source strategy: A picture is worth a thousand words

Microsoft's open-source strategy: A picture is worth a thousand words

Summary: Does Microsoft have an open-source strategy -- beyond finding new ways to thwart Linux? Sam Ramji, Microsoft's Director of Platform Technology Strategy and the company's Open Source Software Lab, says it does, and that he can distill it down to one PowerPoint slide.


Does Microsoft have an open-source strategy -- beyond finding new ways to thwart Linux and other non-proprietary wares?

Sam Ramji, Microsoft's Director of Platform Technology Strategy and the company's Open Source Software Lab, says it does. And it's a lot less touchy-feely than this definition, which is on the Microsoft Open Source Web site: "The Microsoft open source strategy is focused on helping customers and partners be successful in today's heterogeneous technology world."

I met with Ramji last week when he was passing through New York on his way to Europe, and had a chance to ask him to provide a succinct definition of what Microsoft means when it refers to its own "open-source strategy."

Ramji has been one of the big advocates for interoperability between open-source and closed-source Microsoft software at the company.

Ramji and other Microsoft officials have been saying for the past year-plus that Microsoft is signing technology agreements with companies like Novell, BEA, Sun, XenSource, etc. because it wants to help their customers who are struggling with running open-source software alongside Microsoft software. I've been a vocal critic of Microsoft's interoperability claims and have said repeatedly that Microsoft's technology partnerships look to me more like a way to coerce Linux and open-source-software vendors to sign patent-license deals than a way to provide benefits to customers that they couldn't get without these kinds of agreements. (Ramji seemingly didn't hold my opinions against me, although he obviously disagreed with them.)

"Our focus is getting OSS on top of Windows," Ramji said "And I'm focused on (providing) interoperability between the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) and Windows stacks."

I asked Ramji if he could explain Microsoft's open-source strategy to me in a nutshell (or at least in a single PowerPoint slide). Here's what he showed me:

Microsoft’s open-source strategy: A picture is worth a thousand words

So here's my explanation of this slide: Microsoft wants to encourage the coexistence of two software stacks: a Microsoft Windows stack (Windows, Internet Information Services, SQL Server, .Net) and a Linux-free/Windows-centric LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack -- something like a "WAMP." This slide is a picture of Microsoft's ideal view of a WAMP stack.

Microsoft is looking at open-source software (OSS) as just another flavor of independent software vendors (ISV) software. Microsoft's goal is to convince OSS vendors to port their software to Windows. But Microsoft doesn't want OSS software to just sit on top of Windows; the company wants this software to be tied into the Windows ecosystem by integrating with Active Directory, Microsoft Office, Expression designer tools, System Center systems-management wares and SQL Server database.

In cases where customers and software vendors want/need Linux to still be part of the picture for some reason, Microsoft will suggest they use Hyper-V, its forthcoming virtualization hypervisor, to run Linux and Linux-dependent applications.

Microsoft's OSS strategy makes a lot of sense for Microsoft. It's another way for Microsoft to try to make Linux obsolete, and not look as obviously ruthless doing so. And for OSS vendors who are selling a lot of their software on Windows -- Ramji repeated a couple of times that more than 50 percent of JBoss' business these days is from software running on Windows -- Microsoft's OSS push isn't a bad deal, either.

Am I still skeptical about Microsoft's claims that it's doing all this interoperability work to help its customers? I am. But what's your take on Redmond's grand OSS plan?

Topics: Operating Systems, CXO, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Software, IT Employment, Windows


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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  • Lock-in Versus Plug-in

    Well, if you believe your stuff is the best on the planet, it is easy to see how WISN would be viewed as good for the customers.

    I think the prospect for WAMP is not great in terms of attracting developers the same way as LAMP except by those who make the effort to abstract the stack out from under their applications.

    Nuts-and-bolts example: It is a pain to run some of the GNU utilities on Windows because of the use of shim layers to bridge to the Windows platform and runtime. Rebuilding over the native APIs is cool. However, this needs to be done in a way where most of the code is platform-agnostic and the dependencies are isolated in code that works more like libraries than weird run-time adapters.

    It takes work to abstract out the platform and other aspects of the integration stack, such as LAMP, and many developments simply don't bother (and the developers don't have any inclination to do anything about it). That also means that most are not going to bother to port over WISN and figure out how to manage a platform-agnostic code base.

    Since Microsoft developer tools (i.e., the Visual Studio "stack") are increasingly coupled, bolted, wedded into, and useless for anything but WISN, this makes developers acquainted with Eclipse or other development environments justifiably crazy.

    I can see more open-source applications and tools atop WISN, but I don't think it will be from the same developers as LAMP applications. The applications will likely not port well onto other open-source stacks and they won't look much like WAMP at all. Products that are crafted to work multiplatform (e.g., OpenOffice) require tremendous effort to accomplish that and they will be important exceptions, but exceptions nonetheless. That's my prediction.
    • Exactly!

      That's why a few of us chose professional career with other than Microsoft technologies. Well, I used to work developing for Microsoft platform years ago. Not anymore.

      I differentiate between "vendor technology" (or rather vendor methods and tools called sometimes vendor stack) and "global technology" (represented for example by Open Source world).

      Micorsoft does not fit global technology world. It is not about how many places and how many workstations are equipped with vendor software, but rather how people think and act independently finding optimal methods and solutions to particular tasks using different combinations.

      Now having that said I am a commercial developer... still Java.
      • why not learn both.. make more money

        case closed.
        • agree,learn both C# and Java, IIS and Apache, etc.

          Knowing both has made me much more marketable, especially to companies looking to transition one way or the other, and to companies running mixed environments
    • Lock-in

      There is one more layer which has not had much attention here... The client. Mozilla/Safari browsers often times will not properly render the proprietary flavor of HTML coming out of a .NET application. Microsoft development tools are increasingly coupled, bolted, and welded into IE too. And that forces all your clients to run Windows.

      Ok, approximately 90% of all browsers are IE. Why should it matter? But what if my application has to work with someone in who is not in the USA? There are a good many places on our planet where trade laws make it illegal to have a Windows based puter so people there should not be able to access most WISN based content. And, what about pervasive devices? Cell phones have browsers too. Why should I, as a developer or web content producer, limit my audience?

      WISN is a bad choice.
      • yeah.. but thats changing today as we speak

        expressionweb and visualstudio08 output are acid test ready... right?
        • acid test

          Microsoft? Acid Test? I think I can hear Balmer laughing!
  • WISN

    The wisen old men at Microsoft want us to run
    SQL Server
    .Net (C#/VB, even IronPython, which gets us back to P)

    They may talk about coexistence, but lions may want to lie down with lambs. It is still a dumb idea for the lambs, or should I say LAMPs. An Microsoft is still lion to us, at least in this analogy.
    • Well, I can say one thing for sure....

      It looks like MS is a little worried that Linux has managed to grow despite their best efforts....

      or they wouldn't be making the effort.
  • Tell us Mary Jo

    Short of throwing wide the doors to all their IP and giving it away is there anything MS could do differently to please you? It would seem the answer is no..
    • She's doing her job

      by obtaining as much information as she can get. And Microsoft is doing their job by protecting their corporate secrets. So what's the problem?
      Michael Kelly
      • No, she is not doing her job unless her job

        is to rant about MS at every possible opportunity. MS has made huge strides in providing interop with open source and its vendors and all I hear is her doing anything and everything she can to find some reason to whine about it.

        Eye on Microsoft? Both eyes must be firmly shut and she is wearing head phones with Bruce P's voice chanting in an endless loop.
        • Of course she's whining...

          it's obvious that the strategy is to protect the MS OS monopoly by offing Linux.

          I mean, you've said it yourself; choice is good.

          So how does it offer choice when you try to get rid of a competing OS?
          • What is obvious

            is that end users are better off since the deals with Microsoft than before <br><br>
            To the point, let's just use a company Mary Jo mentioned as an example. Novell. Since they signed their agreement with Microsoft their sales started to go through the roof. They publically stated it was the partnership that was causing their increase in sales, which was painfully obvious anyway. How is that bad for the customer? <br>
            They get exactly what they have been asking for, interoperability. <br>

            In fact, polls before that had indicated most people wanted there to be interoperability between the two and Microsoft heard them and did something about it, and the customers responded by purchasing Novell at a dramatically increased rate, mainly because they wanted to run Windows too but were worried about interoperability issues. Those fears evaporated with the deal and in the meantime there were no OSS vendors or advocates giving any impression they were for choice or interoperability. Most forums were/are filled with ABM types that want MS to die and OSS to dominate the world. There is no other way and to hell with what Torvalds had originally envisioned, which is most closely aligned with the MS/Novell deal.<br><br>
            I strongly believe it's the OSS camp that puts their ideology and goals ahead of the customers far more than Microsoft ever has.
          • I have to agree with you to a point...

            With the OSS community, we have had more interoperability than MS has desired; a lot of OSS has had the ability to read, store, and convert information available on windows into Linux. We had Samba, capable of connecting to windows networks and CUPS, capable of acting as a print server running in Linux, even if the document being printed was from a Windows machine.

            The point is, if OSS wasn't about interoperability, we wouldn't have had this software, and quite frankly, OSS would have died a long time ago. Interoperability has been a boon for us.

            So you're absolutely right in that the deal with Novell has been good for the customer, simply for the fact that it is a case of MS embracing the OSS community, with both MS and *nix parties benefiting.

            But of course, I remain skeptical that it isn't part of a broader strategy to wipe Linux off the face of the earth, because Linux has been making gains of late.

            As far as the OSS ideology and goals being put ahead of the customer, ponder this point:

            OSS has always been about putting the best, most sanely coded, most secure and stable product on the table free of charge, or damn close. Of late, OSS has been about obeying all theories and science to achieve maximum ease of use.

            In short, OSS is about ease of use, unmatched quality, unmatched in security, and availability to anyone.

            I think that would place the customers at the top of the OSS camp's list of priorities, wouldn't it?
          • I challenge your "point".

            If i look back over the last couple of years at how licensing has changed in the two camps it is abundantly apparent Microsoft has chaged their license to PROMOTE interoprability while the open source folks (FSF) drew up the most draconian license (GPL-3) possible to stop it.

            Heck, even Bruce P. himself is on record all over the place saying the purpose of the GPL-3 was to prevent "contamination" with Microsoft products and meant to lock Microsoft out in every way he could dream up. He even went so far a to try and force a re-write of all contract law in the country by saying that if I (MS) make a contract with you (Novell) that it automatically applies to everyone.. Pfftt.. I can't wait for that one to go to court, it should be great for a lot of laughs.
          • ahh, GPL3 what a joke...

            the fact is, so few people are on board of GPL3, even Torvalds himself can't bring himself to go that route...

            GPL3 needs to be rebranded as WHMA (We Hate Microsoft Agreement).

            It's too bad it's digital, because now we can't even make toilet paper out of it.
          • I agree about the GPL-3 but it does show a huge disconnect

            between how both sides are approaching interop. MS appears to be trying to work toward it, open source (FSF) seems to be doing all they can to prevent it.

            Curious that Mary Jo can't grasp it and still rants about MS.
          • GPL3 is a pure political agenda...

            it does not, in my opinion, represent what OSS is or should be about.

            Personally, the way I see it, we have Linux, which is an absolute dream in terms of stability and internal structure. Hardware compatibility remains an issue.

            And Windows, which pretty much invented multiprocessing and drove processing technologies, motherboard and peripheral device technologies, but stability can remain an issue.

            I agree that MS is doing what comes naturally, I just don't want to see an industry in which MS has no competion, simply for quality and security reasons.

            I mean, imagine Linux, MS, and OSX going toe to toe in a level playing field. Windows gets more competition and less tying with its other software, like office, Linux gets more user friendly (which has happened in a big way over the last 2 years), and OSX starts resembling an acceptable standard of usability.

            Don't let the mac users hear this but, OSX would lose; I mean, you eject your CD by dragging the CD icon into the garbage? Or that stupid menu bar that you never know what program its actually for? That's just stupid.

            But seriously, a real competition would be really what's good for users. Look at ATI vs. NVidia, graphics have made Superman bounds in the last 10 years.

            Right now it isn't one, and I'd rather have more competition around, if only to move MS from it's complacency when it comes to quality.
          • No argumetn from me on the GPL-3, now if Mary Jo

            would actually open her eyes....