Why is Microsoft sponsoring the Open Source Census?

The Open Source Census, a collaborative project endeavoring to quantify the use of open-source software in enterprises, got a new sponsor on June 16. Microsoft.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

The Open Source Census, a collaborative project endeavoring to quantify the use of open-source software in enterprises, got a new sponsor on June 16: Microsoft.

(Other sponsors of the Census include ActiveState, CollabNet, EnterpriseDB, IDC, OpenLogic and Unisys, among others.)

Whether you are in the camp that believes a contingent inside Microsoft is attempting to get the company to turn over a new leaf about open-source software, or you remain a skeptic, believing Microsoft is trying to embrace and extinguish the open-source flame (or are somewhere in between), the first question that comes to mind is why Microsoft is joining the census.

The official Microsoft sound bite, courtesy of Sam Ramji, head of Microsoft’s open-source and Linux team:

“Our customers, partners and developers are working in increasingly heterogeneous environments, and our participation in industry projects like The Open Source Census are relevant for the ecosystem in which we participate.”

The Census does not require users to identify themselves or their companies with real names. According to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document on the Census site, "we currently do not track IP addresses." (The word "currently"might be a tad alarming for those who prefer some semblance of privacy.)

Instead, the Census allows users to collect information on open source usage by running an open-source tool from OpenLogic, OSS Discovery, on machines in their organization. According to the Open Source Census site:

"For each machine scanned, a scan report will be produced, containing a list of open source software packages and versions found. Companies can review these scan reports before deciding whether to contribute them to The Open Source Census....

"The Open Source Census website provides Census reports that show the prevalence of each open source package. Registered participants can see their own open source inventory and benchmark themselves against others with similar demographics. This data enables companies to determine how to support the open source software they are using, ensure they comply with open source licenses, and identify where they are behind or ahead of the adoption curve."

Back to the original question. I'd assume sponsors of the Census would get more detailed reports than the average participant. When the Census was launched last year, this was a bone of contention among some in the open-source community.

And note the mention of license compliance here -- a hot button for Microsoft, the company which has alleged that open-source software violates more than 200 of Microsoft's patents. The Census discovery tool doesn't search for open-source software on Linux boxes only; it also scans for open-source installed specifically on Windows machines.

Microsoft officials are emphasizing that Microsoft wants to know about open-source adoption levels and trends because the company is interested in helping its customers' Windows systems better interoperate with open-source systems. I'm sure that Microsoft also wants a better understanding of where/how open-source software is gaining traction in enterprises in order to better fight it.

What's your take? What does Microsoft stand to gain from backing the Open Source Census?

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