Microsoft Tests Interoperability

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-08-15 Print this article Print

Linux/Open Source Software Lab's Hilf takes LinuxWorld on inside look.

SAN FRANCISCO—As part of Microsoft Corp.s continuing effort to convince enterprise users and the open-software community that it is committed to interoperability, Bill Hilf, Microsofts director of platform technology, gave attendees at last weeks LinuxWorld Conference & Expo a look into the Linux/Open Source Software Lab at Microsofts Redmond, Wash., campus.

In a session titled "Managing Linux in a mixed environment ... at Microsoft? A look inside the Linux/Open Source Software Lab at Microsoft," Hilf told the audience that he was not hired to be Microsofts Linux hit man.

"My role is not to exterminate Linux. It is to be very critical and objective for Microsoft, our customers and the open-source community," said Hilf, who worked with Linux and other open-source software at both eToys Direct Inc. and IBM before moving to Microsoft.

Hilf and his team, which consists of four permanent program managers and a group of four to six rotating contractors, help the different product groups at Microsoft understand open-source software and the models that exist around it.

"We believe that understanding the technical landscape around open-source software can help our teams drive product improvement," Hilf said.

Hilfs team includes Gentoo Linux founder Daniel Robbins, as well as others with deep Linux, Unix and open-source software administration experience.

"Almost all of the team has worked in some form of a mixed environment. They are very Opinionated and very critical, and I like them that way," Hilf said.

The technology analysis center runs Linux and open-source workloads on more than 300 server and client systems. Since the lab was essentially built from scratch, this created some technical issues because there are a lot of non-Microsoft technologies running, including lots of different Linux and Unix systems as well as other open-source software such as Ganglia, Karamba and Xen.

The lab team also looks at software that might be useful to its product teams and customers. One example is the Samba Torture testing tool, which Microsoft decided to use to test some of its own products.

"While doing that, we found a bug [in the Samba tool], and we submitted that back and it was fixed. There has to be a relationship and communication both ways. We all have to listen as well as talk," Hilf said.

On the desktop front, Hilf said that configuring the latest Linux desktop for applications often meant that things had to be configured inside the application. "No one has sat down and come up with something that configures these applications in a uniform way," he said.

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Hilf also briefly addressed the release of Windows Server 2003 R2 later this year, saying it takes a step forward in Unix interoperability, including a full subsystem for Unix applications, which resides at the same level as the Win32 subsystem.

"The key message is that this is part of the operating system for us and a key part of what we are providing. This is a powerful tool for those looking to move their applications to a new platform," Hilf said.

Hilf was also careful to point out that Microsofts "Monad" scripting shell has not been removed from Windows Vista, as was widely reported. Instead, Monad will be available in different technologies and will eventually be a part of the operating system, he said.

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Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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