Microsoft keeps its open source enemies close

Microsoft keeps its open source enemies close

Summary: Are the software giant's recent attempts to reach out to the open source community genuine or just another example of its embrace, extend and extinguish strategy?


At a conference sponsored by the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) in Maryland this spring, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith made what some called Microsoft's first public effort to reconcile with the open source world. There was, Smith said, a "broad panoply of software development models", and Microsoft was "going to have to figure out how to build some bridges between the various parts of our industry".

Microsoft might not be changing its development practices, but "bridges" were necessary "so that we all have the ability to collaborate with each other". He called for "some new rotations" in working together with the open-source community, sharing technology and intellectual property, and licensing.

The remarks were something of a shift for Microsoft, to put it mildly. The company at one time engaged in a high-profile smear campaign against the fundamentals of open-source development, with top executives criticising the GPL as "Pac-Man-like", "viral" and a "cancer". The GPL is perhaps the most popular open source licence, covering core software such as the Linux operating system kernel and the networking technology Samba.

This way of talking about open source set the tone for debate — not only was Microsoft going to compete with Linux, Apache and the like, it was going to wage a holy war against the whole "un-American" idea of "free software".

Smith isn't the only one who seems to be saying nice things about open source all of a sudden. Indeed, all of Redmond seems to be pitching in on the charm offensive, and not all of the effort is aimed at public relations. Could some sort of rapprochement be at hand? If so, industry observers say those benefiting the most could be customers, who have long been stuck in the crossfire while Microsoft and open-source companies battled it out.

The signs of a thaw have begun to add up. For instance, Microsoft has begun sponsoring and paying for space at open source conferences, as a way to make sure its side of the story is heard; these include LinuxWorld and the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC), of which it is a platinum sponsor.

At April's Microsoft Management Summit, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer took a significant step away from the company's long-standing emphasis on homogenous Windows application and server environments. Going forward, Ballmer said, Microsoft management tools would be dedicated to managing heterogeneity. "We grew up focussed in on Windows, managing Windows, taking care of Windows," Ballmer said in the keynote speech. "Today I want to mark essentially a step forward." The presentation included a demonstration involving Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advance Server 3. Newer Microsoft technical certifications, such as the Microsoft Certified Architect credential, cover a variety of tools and technologies, including open source.

Not long before the Management Summit, in late March, Ballmer secretly met with Red Hat's Matthew Szulik for more than an hour at a McCormick & Schmick's restaurant in New York, sources confirmed. The companies wouldn't comment on the meeting, but Microsoft chairman Bill Gates acknowledged the company is interested in talking to open source players. "There are some of those [open source] players that are looking at commercial-type revenues. We'll certainly spend time with those people to see what we have in common and what we can do for customers together," Gates said, adding he didn't consider it a "big, new development".

Topic: Operating Systems

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  • Interoperability? What a joke.

    MS fails to achieve good interoperability of its own systems. They have a revenue stream generated by creating interoperability between different combinations of their own OS and software.

    I envisage they'd do little more than to create a generation of useful interoperability - but for one software generation only (5 yrs or less). Once people embrace the easy combo of Windows/Linux softwares MS will again introduce changes that screw it all up, in the aim of forcing further MS system / application upgrades... at a CO$T to the consumer.
  • any open source players looking to hook up with MS should give netscape a call before hand
  • Microsoft is stupid. The only true signal of cooperation (and it has been asked for plenty of times by many) is to open up protocols and formats with no strings attached whatsoever. Rather then taking existing, established, formats and protocols and polluting them (or make their own version) with Microsoft copyrights and patents. Kerberos, Microsoft IPX, WMA, HTML, etc, etc. The list is long and plenty.

    Open up the protocols and formats. It's what the Open Source community is after. But also Microsoft's own customers including governments. Heck, even some of their own partners have been asking for it.

    Afterall, Microsoft claims to be the best innovator of the world and they claim that they are better (cheaper) in almost every aspect that counts.
    And let us not forget Microsoft's enormous R&D and PR budget, contributing partner network and its devoted developer communities.

    They talk the talk but they don't walk the walk.

    Instead they do exactly what their opponents have pointed out all along and is starting to become clear to more people now. If Microsoft is indeed that good then why do they need to strong arm their opponents and their own customers into the corner all of the time? Shouldn't Microsoft be jumping at the chance to proof once and for all who can beat who hands down? Heck, do we here Microsoft's opponents crying about what an unfair match it would be if aspects like R&D budget and number of devoted partners and developers weren't in balance as well. No, as far as Microsoft's opponents are concerned Microsoft can start with all of those huge advantages well in place. But what does Microsoft do? Big mouthing and still strong arming. So who's really the best? Who really can give you better value for money, more bang for the buck, time and time again by offering you choice because they simply know that no matter how many oppurtunities they give you to leave you would have to be completely ignorant to actually do so.

    Microsoft should put up or shut up.
  • You can't trust Microsoft!!! There motivation is money, power and profit! Where as the open source community wants better programs with less flaws and a higher standard of programming that is aviable to all, rich and poor. Microsoft stands to make no Profit from any open source ventures it may enguage in. It will only improve there image, "Thats what their after" as well as seeking out week points in the open source community, which they will then taget with bureaucratic red tape and slap them all with law suits destroying the open source movement. The real suffers are us, the end users. I once used to like Microsoft's products untill I discovered alternatives. Now I think Microsoft's products are poorly constructed with little thought for the end users e.g. take IE (Internet Explorer) and compare it with the likes of Opera 8 and FireFox 1.0. There's no contest IE loses every time! Try them see which one you prefer.
  • "There motivation is money, power and profit! "

    Damn right it is and good luck to them, thats called business, putting your opponents out of business is also extremely good business practice

    As for other open source rubbish

    The only standard is who sells the most
    The best is who sells the most,,

    Oh and as for 'free' often just another name for theft

    When the Open Source 'community' starts getting psychologists, marketing research and sales people people working for free then It might make get somewhere. The fact is programmers make up a very small part of what is require to make a decent program usable by normal people not computer science students
  • Jon, I am a "normal person" and I like Linux better than Windows and OpenOffice better than MS Office, and Firefox (or even poor old Netscape!) better than IE.
  • In reference to my last comment a 'normal person' is someone who uses a computer as tool to do a non-computer related job. Secretary, salesman etc. It is highly unlikely to refer to anyone who reads or posts on these groups

    Linux and similar simple do not aim for these users basically as you arent going to find many non-computer geeks who are prepared to sit around in focus groups discussing user interfaces for free.

    I heard Microsoft emply over a 100 pyschologists for the develpment their operating systems. Now you may or may not think Bill Gates did a good job but the the idea behind it is very sound.

    The point is it takes a lot more than a good coder to make a good program
  • Yeah. Take Microsoft Office for example. People used to pay good money for concurrent licensing and get free licensing for their laptops and home computers at the same time. Noweday they pay tons more for non-concurrent use for each and every single PC out there. In other words, 10 years ago people would have called a rip-off what they say is a good deal today.

    Basicly they still type the same things. Do the same maths. Still use a whole bunch of third-party tools to get work done. They could do that on a piece of paper. They could do it with non-Microsoft software. Or they could do it with Microsoft software. The diff? That really matters? You tell me, but I know which one is costing you the most overall.

    Is that a choice? Maybe, some might claim that you have no real choice because you are somewhat brainwashed about it. But then I don't have 100 pyschologists on my pay list.
  • "You can't trust Microsoft!!! There motivation is money, power and profit!"

    Dear Jon
    In response to your comments.

    The point I was trying to make about Microsoft as quoated above is that they don't care much about the end user, computer geek or not. As long as they are raking in huge profits, thats what a business is about, Profit!

    However their not bothered about improving their products to reach their full potential, sure windows has come a long way from the constantly crashing Windows 95 to a more stable Windows XP but it's take such along itme to do so considering the amout of resources they have aviable.

    I don't know any one who doesn't get hacked off and fustrated with their system from time to time. Thses are the non-technical users using Micrsoft products, you imply as "normal people" I think you might have meet a few of these "normal people".

    The Open souce programs, set to improve user experience. This is the point am getting at. I wouldn't mind too much even if they did charge for their programs provinding that their products were of a high standard and didn't cause the end user a lot of fustration. This is somthing Microsoft clearly doesn't do and in their view if they don't do it no one else should be able to.

    The Open source programs have shown people, computer geek or not, that using the computer can be a pleasent and enjoyable experience with little fustration.

    I't is in the best intrest for Microsoft to destroy the Open source movement to keep their extremly high profit mirgin. That's what they will aim to do. Aim to take away the enjoyable experience with little fustration away from the end user as they do not want to provide the same or better standards as the open source programs do. I find it hard to belive that Microsoft will ever match the open source programs for performance and quality not because they can't but because they don't want to!! come on a firm as big as Microsoft can't find good programmers. It's the end users that lose out!!!!
  • Having to reactivation my copy of Windows XP Professional 2002 every time I reinstall it is so ridiculous! To me, reactivating Windows makes no sense whatsoever. Do that is nothing but a giant paine in the neck.

    Roberta Gallant
    Concord, New Hampshire