I thought I had a pretty good handle on the differences between the open-source community and the traditional proprietary approach to software development. But watching a Microsoft spokesperson defend his company and its whole approach to business in front of a room full of Linux zealots last week helped crystallise the gulf between the two camps -- not just in business strategy but in fundamental philosophy and political bent.
First off, Microsoft deserves some credit for actually attending the panel debate and addressing a pretty tough crowd -- the Redmond gang would be hard pushed to find a less sympathetic audience than the faithful filling the hallowed halls of Linux Expo at London's Olympia.
Deciding on the motivation of the Microsoft man, national systems engineer Bradley Tipp, for turning up depends on your degree of cynicism. Hopefully, it was out of genuine belief in his company's technology and the chance for some heart-felt evangelising to correct the misguided picture that most Linux converts have of Microsoft. Or, from the other end of the cynicism scale, his motivation was all about damage limitation and pulling back any IT managers in the audience who might be considering defecting to open source.
Theorising about motivation might seem a bit "out there" but actually it's key to the whole difficulty that Microsoft is having with the open-source crowd -- they own the moral high-ground 100 percent. Microsoft, on the other hand, is still operating like an 80s company. Being aggressive and pragmatic got them a long way when everyone else was playing by the same rules but open-source advocates such as Red Hat, Suse, and Samba have moved the goalposts. Marching under the banners of sharing and cooperation, they have chosen not to fight Microsoft at its hard-nosed business game. While they still adhere to capitalist principles -- they might have socialist tendencies but they're not communists -- they are also promoting the idea that there is more to life than cash: there is the love of coding, job satisfaction, and the fulfilment of being part of a community; a society.