Open source community wooed by Microsoft

Microsoft was out in force at an open source conference in London this week, but many delegates were unwilling to talk about its motives
Written by Miya Knights, Contributor

Microsoft is redoubling its efforts to persuade business leaders that it is committed to working more closely with the open source community.

Jerry Fishenden, UK technology officer at Microsoft, took to the stage at the Open Source Business Conference in London on Wednesday to promote the technology giant’s strategy of co-operating, as well as competing, with open source companies.

Fishenden told ZDNet UK that the conference was a good opportunity to address the “misconception”, as he put it, that Microsoft was anti-open source.

"The issue is not as black and white as that," Fishenden said. "We’re not saying ‘either use Microsoft or use open source technologies’. We are part of a broad ecosystem. Fifty percent of open source projects are currently using Microsoft products, for example."

The company cited recent partnerships formed with open source vendors such as JBoss and MySQL as evidence that it was possible to both compete and collaborate in this space at the same time.

"Take Sun, for instance," Fishenden said. "It’s obvious we’re still competing with Sun, but we are doing joint work around Web services and interoperability. And we’ve recently released shared source licences for some of our products as well."

Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative covers a range of programmes. Some of these licences allow developers to view, modify and redistribute Microsoft source code, but others are more restrictive. The Reference Licence, for example, only allows code to be viewed.

Some open source advocates, such as Richard Stallman, have claimed in the past that developers should approach Microsoft's Shared Source licences with caution because of these restrictions. Earlier this week, Microsoft launched a site called CodePlex where people can access code made available under a Microsoft shared-source licence.

As the premium sponsor of the Open Source Business Conference, Microsoft’s charm offensive was much in evidence, and dominated many conversations between delegates. Few, though, would agree to speak openly about Microsoft.

Graham Taylor, programme director of independent open source body Open Forum Europe, told ZDNet UK that many delegates were sceptical about Microsoft's involvement with the event.

"I would prefer to see an open source supporter as the platinum sponsor, but it shows a sign of maturity in the open source market that Microsoft is getting involved," said Taylor.

But Taylor also thinks Microsoft has a long way to go to gain the trust of the open source community. "We’re not likely to see the leopard change its spots. For instance, it said it supported the idea of an open document format, but won’t support the ISO standard recently introduced to support this."

Ovum open source analyst Laurent Lachal said the market has forced Microsoft to be more pragmatic in its approach to open source.

"I think it will open source some of its products, in response to the pressure from increased technology convergence," Lachal said. "And it will be increasingly important for it to interact with open source products and move the discussion about ‘open source’ onto ‘open standards’."

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