Why Microsoft should open-source SQL Server and SharePoint

Why Microsoft should open-source SQL Server and SharePoint

Summary: Stephen Walli, the former Microsoft exec turned open-source proponent, is at it again.This time, the former Softie is making a case for why Microsoft should consider open-sourcing some of its crown jewels, including SQL Server and SharePoint. And he's got a few reasons that might make even closed-source proponents reconsider their business-model philosophies.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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Stephen Walli, the former Microsoft exec turned open-source proponent, is at it again.

This time, the former Softie is making a case for why Microsoft should consider open-sourcing some of its crown jewels, including SQL Server and SharePoint. And he's got a few reasons that might make even closed-source proponents reconsider their business-model philosophies.

Walli isn't any ordinary Linux lover. He worked for Microsoft, following Redmond's acquisition of Softway Systems, a company that developed an environment that allowed the rehosting of Unix applications on top of Windows NT, and of which Walli was a founder. (Softway's Interix environment morphed, over time, into Microsoft's Services for Unix technology.)

After five years of serving as a business development manager for Windows (and, before that, a program manager on Rotor, Microsoft's Shared Source implementation of the Common Language Infrastructure), Walli joined the open-source consultancy Optaros. Now Walli is chief technology officer and vice president of engineering at a new startup that he won't name.

On his blog during the past couple of weeks, Walli "created a thought experiment on some of the more creative things Microsoft could be doing with open source software to customer and business benefit."

First, he tackled SQL Server, one of the products that has contributed and continues to make a steady contribution to Microsoft's bottom line. Walli suggested Microsoft release the source code for SQL Server under the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2. Next, he advocated that Microsoft repackage SQL Server as a subscription to SQL Server Network "similar to the subscription-based support, maintenance and tuning offerings from Red Hat Network and MySQL Network."

Walli explained:

"The key understanding here is that today the value of SQL Server to the customer ISN'T the source code, but rather the solution it provides. The value Microsoft provides isn't the source code, but all the testing, packaging, support and maintenance. You don't NEED to drop the price of SQL Server Network below the existing price for the shrink wrap binaries."

Sure, such a move could result in cheaper SQL Server clones, and probably some SQL Server-MySQL mashups. But so what? Microsoft just might be able to get MySQL to license some of its source code, as a result, Walli argued. (MySQL already is a member of Microsoft's Visual Studio Industry Partner program and uses Microsoft's Shared Source WiX Windows installer technology for development.)

Microsoft should likewise release the SharePoint Server source code under the GPL 2, Walli said. Then turn SharePoint into a subscription-based service.

"Remember when Microsoft's slogan was simple and meaningful: 'A PC on every desk and in every Home,'" Walli blogged. "Riff on 'A Document Share in every Work Group and in every Home' might be interesting considering all the photographs, music, and soon-to-be TV shows and movies that will need to be stored."

Walli's conclusion: Microsoft needs to rethink its open-source posturing in order to stay competitive.

"There is an incredibly rich portfolio of software assets inside Microsoft, that will NEVER be released as multi-billion dollar revenue streams, that could be used to engage Microsoft customers and developers in open source communities," Walli said. But "re-invention is necessary. IBM did it. Sun is doing it. No point waiting until you hurt as badly as they did to begin."

I wonder if the Softies will write off Walli's ideas or actually give them a second thought….

Topic: Microsoft

About

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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