Microsoft's magnificent 7 open source options

Microsoft's magnificent 7 open source options

Summary: commentary Joining the open source club has many benefits. How many Microsoft receives depends on how far it wants to go.


commentary Now Microsoft has officially decided that the GPL is a good thing and is using it to release code for Linux, it's time for the software company to take advantage of the many good things that being a member of the open source club brings. It's not quite the Berlin Wall coming down-not yet--but reunification may be on the cards.

So what should Microsoft do to get the maximum benefits from the peace dividend?

1. Fix Internet Explorer
As Office 2010's online editions are dependent on huge amounts of JavaScript, browser performance is going to become key. And IE8 lags badly. Even if it makes little difference in practice, the marketing importance of having a competitive JavaScript engine will be immense.

But all the really good innovation here is open source--so use it. Spend your time solving problems that haven't been solved yet, like the browser interface. A tabbed browsing front end gets really stale, really quickly if you're trying to use multiple Web-based applications.

2. Fix Windows application management
Windows application management is actively dangerous, because it almost doesn't exist. Life on the Windows desktop is a nightmare of different applications trying to call home, warn about security updates, battling for control. Have fun trying to cleanly remove something, too. Open source OSes have package management that is so swish, it's almost an app store.

Take it, Microsoft, and give away the Windows integration so it can get even better.

3. Fix Windows Mobile
Even if there was a magic wand that could be waved over the existing Windows Mobile system to turn it into the most fabulous mobile OS ever, it wouldn't help much.

The future of mobile most probably belongs to the thin-client, cloudy, smart terminal, location aware, best-Web-experience-ever approach. Open source has great chunks of that sorted. Put intensely good Windows integration on top of that, add decent corporate support for security and management, and you've got a strong story for OEMs and enterprise alike.

4. Give up on the FAT patents already
It's a revenue stream, but it's also a commitment to the old way of extorting money through the cold equations of power and probability.

With predatory patent trolls posing far more of a threat to Microsoft than anything open source can do, the best you can get out of aggressive patent blackmailing as an innovator is a zero-sum game.

It's a Cold War stand-off, and you know how that ends. Better to throw your weight behind patent reform and IP renewal, and help create an environment where fair rewards in an open culture win over lawyer-driven wallet jousting.

5. Open source XP
A radical move, but not for the obvious reasons. Microsoft doesn't want to sell XP; it gets in the way of its grand Windows 7-and-upward plan.

The OS is already largely indistinguishable from its open source competition: support is mostly community-based, people who have bought XP once already see no problem in breaking their license conditions and just using copies from anywhere thereafter, and it is sufficiently far behind the cutting edge to make it a lightweight, flexible platform that runs well on cheap hardware.

By making it open source, Microsoft could execute a smart end-run around the netbook Linux threat--which is still there--and could legitimize the de facto state of affairs in the developing world while strengthening its brand.

6. Save the world from device driver misery--forever
There is no technical reason why a unified API could not be developed for device drivers across multiple operating systems. There is only lack of will.

But such an API could only work if entirely open, with a heavy bias towards open source in the code as well. Microsoft could use its monopoly position to create such an environment, but only if it were seen as a bona fide community member.

We don't know how much time and effort Microsoft expends on device driver testing and validation, but it's too much, and it's not working. Better to put the responsibility back where it belongs, with the manufacturers, by making their lives as easy as possible.

7. Save the world from antivirus software
It's a toss-up whether the average corporation loses more through having to buy, support and suffer antivirus software than it would through viruses.

As with device drivers, Microsoft has the unique power to create an open framework for AV collaborative work that influences application, OS and security design--but only if it is seen as trustworthy. It has that chance now.

All the above use open source ideas to give Microsoft things it doesn't have and free it up to work on the things it does best. And, incidentally, these ideas also let it become the sort of company it pretends to be already.

That's the point of open: if you play by the rules, everyone wins.

Topics: Software, Apps, Mobility, Open Source, Operating Systems, Security

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • Microsoft's magnificent 7 open source options

    Whilst I agree with most of your points, I can't agree with 7.
    Creating a unified infrastructure for anti-virus software would just result in one big target for virus writers to either corrupt or bypass.
    It's inevitable with no matter how good a program or OS is written, someone will find some way to infect the system. After all a lot of the viruses are merely using standard user rights to achieve their goals.
  • Better be titled: "Plentiful wishful thinking!"

    MS is a powerful corporation, which got where they are by aggressive anti-competitive behaviour, thinking only about $$$ and then some more. They break laws knowing full well, by the time the slowish legal systems all around the world have caught up to them, the will have made more money than they will ever pay in fines. They won't change, they won't "do good" all of a sudden just because it would be great for their customers.

    Point 1-3 boils down to: "Drop your own crap and run with rebranded OSS."
    They could have done this for a long time and it would have been clever to do so even moneywise... still they didn't do it, why is up to guess. My guess: They don't understand Open-Source and many people fear what they can't understand.

    Point 4: Give up on FAT, why? To do something good? Seriously?
    Just because they no longer charge for FAT, the patent trolls which really are a threat to MS as to any tech-company, won't go away. Lose money and get nothing in return? Seriously? Dream on...

    Point 5: Open-Source XP? Even just go the full way and GPL it maybe and support it for free too? This will never happen or if it happens by freak chance it will be the end of Microsoft as wie know it!
    GPL-Windows would enable people to use Windows from know on and forevermore never again paying even 1Cent to Microsoft. Further it would be the holy-grail to the wine-project, enabling perfect win32-emulation on Linux.
    Who cares about Windows[numbergreaterthanseven] if there is GPL-Windows to be had for free delivering all new ideas of Windows[numbergreaterthanseven] within one year after release, free of charge and with ever increasing code-quality?

    Point 6&7: More whishful thinking. Even Microsoft can't change things over which they have no power.
    All points together would require Microsoft to destroy the very ecosystem they helped create, even if they wanted to (and again why would they? for the greater good? been reading to much Harry Potter lately?) they would only destroy themselves whilst getting fought by those who make their living of those ecosystem.
    None of those 7 "ideas" will ever come to pass until Microsoft's Software Empire begins to crumble and they will have to resort to really desperate measures.
  • What Formatting?

    I'd like to apologize for non-existing formatting. My post actually consisted of more than seven paragraphs, which the zdnet-website simply ignored, most likely to "improve" readabilty... thank you so very much.