After years of being seen as a proprietary software monolith, Microsoft is keen to change its image in the open-source community. Spearheading the charge for Microsoft Australia is the chief technology officer Greg Stone, who feels that locking customers into software is not the way to secure repeat business.
Microsoft Australia's chief technology officer, Greg Stone.(Credit: Microsoft Australia)
Microsoft recently demonstrated its public commitment to open source in Australia after it backed the Federal Government's new approach to open software and standards, and preaches a message of interoperability and choice when it comes to software, but where has this new attitude come from?
Calling a truce
Stone told ZDNet Australia that Microsoft has been developing a relationship with free and open-source software communities for some time now all over the world. According to Stone, the last decade has been about opening the doors to open software communities as it looks to pleasantly co-exist.
Examples he gave of cooperation included the Samba open-source project as well as Microsoft-operated code repositories and community hubs like CodePlex and Port 25. Such projects ensure that open source and Microsoft products can co-exist in customer environments without the drama that's normally associated with combining the two.
"We believe in choice, and things should stand or fall by their own merits. Locking something in through denying interoperability is something that doesn't promote that and that's something we don't support," Stone said.
"There's customer demand and because it's going to improve the lot of our customers [that] we have worked with the open-source community in order to make that possible," said Stone.
Stone feels that the software marketplace has matured over the years and through that maturity can finally put the "us versus them" approach to bed, in favour of not only co-existence but co-operation. He said that Microsoft is now responding to user queries and requests faster, giving access to new platforms and innovations more efficiently through sites like CodePlex.
"People want to know how we do the add-on for X and a lot of this stuff that we're now doing not only in the company but in the product groups is coming out this way," he said.
According to Stone, that co-operation between proprietary vendors and open-source communities is essential to software innovation.
"I think we've come to the realisation that if you want to grow something and you want to develop and innovate, you need to be able to work together towards the fundamental premise of cooperating, even though you might be ultimately competitive and coming up with different ideas, it's more important to do that in order to innovate."
"Your innovation coupled with someone else's innovation put together will solve a problem," he added.
Spreading the word
Microsoft isn't just looking to keep its open-source partnerships in dark, undiscovered corners either. Stone said that the company is spending millions making sure that Microsoft can continue to cooperate effectively with free software communities.
"The millions of dollars we're pouring in to support things like dialogue, paid employees to work with open-source communities and/or standards bodies … there's a big financial commitment there for us to work through those kinds of issues and support open source and achieve that interoperability."
An example he gave is the Open Source Interoperability Council, which brings together Microsoft CIOs from all over the world to solve problems like integration and to develop best practises. Through this, Stone said, Microsoft can start to spread the word of how to integrate its products with other platforms and communities.
Stone drew the line, however, at preaching a mantra to other companies, directly mandating where it had no right.
"What we don't do, is go out and directly mandate or suggest that other companies do specific things because that's a decision that company needs to make," he said.
At the end of the day, Stone feels that Microsoft's olive branch approach to the free and open-source software communities is about helping customers get platforms and software working how they want it.
"What we see coming out of this is a continuum of us becoming more and more committed to the notion of open source as another form of developing and licensing software in the market ... We need to support [it] in some ways because it is a bona fide component of the IT industry."
"To that extent, we're really pragmatic about open source but we always start from the point of view of 'what are our customer needs' and 'what's the best way to fulfil those needs'," Stone said.