Microsoft: 'We should learn from open source'

Microsoft has a soft spot for Linux, but it believes that recent developments in the open-source community have killed the free software model

The Microsoft attitude towards the competition du jour has taken a turn towards the distinctly tolerant. Speaking at the Microsoft IT Forum in Copenhagen, Bradley Tipp, the software company's UK national systems engineer, said: "We have nothing against open source, from Microsoft's point of view, it's not a religious thing, it's not them versus us… there are a lot of things we have learnt and there are a lot of things we should learn from open source."

It seems that Microsoft may actually be quite keen on taking a leaf out of the open-source book, with an eye on putting its source code in the public domain. What some execs would like to see is a smart-card scheme -- an extension of the existing practice where selected trusted users can access source code in a secure environment.

But Microsoft remains adamant that commercial reasons prevent it from simply putting the source code -- its "crown jewels" -- in the public domain.

That magpie attitude, according to Microsoft, is mutual. Red Hat's decision to end support for its free software and the Novell-SuSE link-up have put the last nail in the coffin of the free-software model, the Redmond behemoth believes -- even going so far as to speculate that the move from free to paid-for open-source software is a validation of Microsoft's way of doing business and the only way the open-source movement can survive.

Despite the rivalry, Microsoft is keen to talk up its love for the competition, One Microsoft employee even went so far as to say Linux having a 50 percent market share would be good for Microsoft. "At least if Linux takes off, their viruses will propagate and we won’t be seen as the bad guys any more," he said. Tipp equally sees advantages to Linux taking off. "We think Linux is great," he said, adding that competition from the penguin and associates keeps the Microsoft on its toes.

Open-source users, however, aren't quite so overflowing with praise, he said. "We haven't talked to a single user who has said they're using [open source] because it's better." Tipp argued that it is more a case of sheer frustration with licensing and Microsoft’s poor relationship with its customers over the last few years -- or simply the perceived cost benefits of open source -- driving users to migrate.

And it's that "misperception" that Microsoft is most keen to address, restating its aim to get more information on how free software fits into the total cost of ownership into the hands of its consumers.

But when it comes down to how seriously the Gates camp really takes its open-source rivals, the message is now they've started to sit up and take notice: "Do we lie awake at night and worry? You know Microsoft, it's the paranoid company. If someone buys just one copy of something else, we worry," Tipp said.