Microsoft Tests Interoperability

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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