Matt Asay has offered a rather strange post noting that if history had been different the roles of IBM and Microsoft would be reversed.
If history were different I'd be George Clooney. It's not. This is Clooney's good fortune.
Matt's point is that, in future work, Microsoft might find itself contributing to projects like Apache while IBM might feel threatened by things like a project to build a mainframe.
Maybe. But when was the last time IBM sued an open source vendor or even threatened to do so?
This is not because IBM is good or Microsoft is bad. It's just not in IBM's corporate best interests to do so, nor is it likely to be in the future. Because IBM has transformed its business models to accommodate, even encourage, open source.
IBM is a hardware company, a services company and a contracting company. Notice what is missing? Any need to control code used by anyone but a customer IBM has contracted to serve.
For IBM, software is a shared store from which it benefits, and to which it contributes. The company has built an arms-length relationship with the whole process of improving code. It can still make proprietary improvements, because the BSD-type licenses it supports allow that.
The point is that IBM's freedom to act is no impeded by open source.
What Matt fears is a shared decision by a code project to target IBM products, but why would a truly shared effort turn on one of the members? When there are other productive directions to go in?
By placing its relationship with code at arms-length, IBM has created a situation where it can be both a solid open source citizen and a profitable enterprise.
It took IBM years of wrenching change to get to this place. In proprietary software Microsoft long ago buried IBM the way Nixon buried George McGovern. Now IBM is benefitting from its hard work of transformation, while Microsoft continues on the same path that has worked for it before.
The only way I think Microsoft can become as good an open source citizen as IBM is to make the same changes in how it approaches software. Microsoft fans are now asking, "to what benefit?"
Exactly. Open source citizenship is not a mask. It's corporate character in action.