Can Windows and Open Source Learn to Play Nice?

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-06-12

Can Windows and Open Source Learn to Play Nice?

BOSTON—Microsoft has been reaching out to the open-source community to try to find ways to overcome the incompatibilities between software distributed under the GNU General Public License and its own commercial software.

"Open source is a way of building software and, in its most basic sense, there is nothing incompatible [between] the concept of open source and commercial software.

"But the GPL has an inherent incompatibility that is, to my knowledge, impossible to overcome," Bob Muglia, the senior vice president of Microsofts server and tools business, told eWEEK in an interview here at Microsofts annual TechEd developer conference on June 12.

A commercial company has to build intellectual property, while the GPL, by its very nature, does not allow intellectual property to be built, making the two approaches fundamentally incompatible, Muglia said.

Licenses like the BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) and commercial software, on the other hand, are quite compatible with one another, he observed.

"We are open to ways of working with the open-source community broadly, and even in the GPL space we are trying to find ways in which we can build bridges to GPL, but the bridge has to be carefully constructed," Muglia said.

Open-source code advocates have called for cooler heads to prevail in the debate about the first discussion draft of the next version of the GPL. To read more, click here.

"One of the things I have learned is that engineers who work on commercial software really cant work on open source on GPL and engineers who work on GPL cant work on commercial software. You really have to separate the two," he said.

As Microsoft continues along its road of interoperability, it wants to ensure that it will be able to work with software licensed under the GPL and that people will be able to build solutions under the GPL that interoperate with Microsofts offerings, he said.

He added that this initiative is being driven by Bill Hilf, who established Microsofts Linux and open-source lab and who reports to Muglia, along with Craig Mundie, its chief technology officer for advanced strategies and policy, as they work on many of the companys broad standards efforts.

Due to the complexity and breadth of initiative, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith and his team are also involved, Muglia said

To read more about Microsofts efforts to convince the developer community of its commitment to interoperability, click here.

Asked what the reaction from the community had been to Microsofts outreach on this front, Muglia said it was "skeptical but intrigued. What people are starting to discover is that people who write GPL code are not evil and people who write commercial software are also not evil, we just have different approaches."

The goal, from both sides, is to meet customer needs, he said, adding, "This is just the more mature view of the way the world is evolving, and we want to make sure that if customers are choosing Linux or other open-source-based products that we have ways of interoperating and working effectively with that."

Linux and open-source companies remain Microsoft competitors, and the goal is to do a better job than they do at solving customer needs, and ultimately to have customers choose Microsoft solutions. However, if customers choose not to, Microsoft needs to be interoperating and working well with those companies.

Next Page: Microsoft learns from open source.

Microsoft Learns from Open

Source"> Microsofts plan for increased outreach to the Linux and open-source community is not restricted to products like Windows 2003 Compute Cluster Server, which includes open-source technology, but also applies across other major product lines, according to Muglia.

"The world is complicated enough and we need to find ways to work with everyone. … You will be seeing a lot more of this in the future from us," Muglia said, declining to be more specific.

Red Hats recent acquisition of JBoss has not changed the competitive landscape for Microsoft in any way, Muglia said, adding that Red Hat did a good job of pulling together a broad set of open-source technologies from a lot of inconsistent distributions for its customers.

"Thats probably a good thing. And it is the nature of open source in that it always kind of aggregates," he said.

Click here to read about the use of open-source technology in Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003.

Asked what Microsoft had learned from the open-source community and what it could still learn, he said the development methodologies are very interesting, and in fact Microsoft has made community development process a standard part of its process.

"There were definite learnings for us on that. Open source was way ahead of us on that five years ago and we have learned from them. This whole thing where Microsoft is an open blog environment is about us trying to really embrace these existing trends that are very important in the industry and to being open to our communities across all of our products. Fascinating things happen there. That model is the way of the future and were embracing it," he said.

He also said the disconnected, distributed nature of that development process was fascinating to Microsoft, which still has a lot to learn in that area, and that while this is an effective model in some ways, it is also less effective in others. Historically, Microsoft had effectively kept everyone on a project within a square-mile radius of Redmond, and there were real benefits to that, he said, adding that there were also benefits to having access to workers around the world and their talents and creativity.

"We are still learning from the open community how to do that, and we probably have more to learn there," he said, adding that Microsoft intends to keep Softricity, which it plans to acquire, in Boston, so as to tap into all the things that were happening in that region.

But the challenge is that integration is tough in a distributed environment, and architectural boundaries have to be set up between components, which is a good thing, he said. Now Microsoft plans to do as much of that as it can in the future.

Open source, on the other hand, historically has had a tough time building integrated solutions in that distributed fashion, Muglia said, and, "Our customers demand that from us. So there are certain things we have to do that are core to our development and our customers that we cant learn from open source because they are not doing that."

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

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