Microsoft vs. Linux: Execs Talk Detente

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-06-02

Microsoft vs. Linux: Execs Talk Detente

NEW ORLEANS—The often-hostile relations between Microsoft and the open-source community are thawing, and new dialogues appear to be opening between senior officials in both camps.

In continuing its outreach to the most prominent members of the open-source community, Microsoft has invited Michael Tiemann, president of the Open Source Initiative and vice president of open-source affairs at Linux vendor Red Hat, to meet and start a constructive dialogue.

"Microsoft reached out to me as president of the OSI, and they basically said they wanted to begin a productive conversation, and we agreed to take that at face value," Tiemann told eWEEK in an interview at the Red Hat Summit here Thursday.

While Tiemann has not yet met with anyone from Microsoft, most likely to be Brad Smith, its general counsel, they have exchanged e-mails and a meeting is likely to occur.

Earlier this year, Smith extended an olive branch to the open-source community, asking for a sit-down meeting to see how his company can better work with them.

Asked why he thinks Microsoft wants to meet with him and what he thinks they are interested in discussing, Tiemann said he still thinks the Microsoft Shared Source program represents an "attempt to quell an internal civil war" at Microsoft.

"There are smart people at Microsoft who realize there is another side to the argument," he said.

Click here to read about Microsoft keeping up its presence at open-source events.

When Tiemann first said this in 2001 while debating Craig Mundie, Microsofts chief technology officer, Mundie responded that "there is no dissent at Microsoft."

Whether an internal war is going on or not, Tiemann said, "We are happy if they are willing to take a new position and a new look. Nothing could be better than for Microsoft to embrace fair competition and abandon their so unsuccessful past practices."

Asked about those in the community who still perceive Microsoft as an enemy to be avoided at all costs, Tiemann responded, "So, whats the price of being wrong? There are some prices that cant be paid and others where you say, boy, that was a learning experience. But if you dont try, youll never know."

Microsoft Corp.s outreach to Tiemann follows a similar move earlier this year to engage Red Hat Inc. CEO Matt Szulik, who reportedly met Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for dinner in Manhattan.

Szulik would not confirm that a meeting had taken place, although several executives at the Redmond, Wash., software giant have confirmed it to eWEEK. But when pushed by eWEEK to say why he might consider meeting with a competitor such as Microsoft, he said the fact that "we have common customers is the obvious reason."

"I think there is also a recognition that Linux and open-source software is a reality that is here to stay and is not going to disappear. They could also be introductory discussions about business," Szulik said.

He added that Red Hat thinks that participating in dialogue and not hiding behind rhetoric, such as that from Sun Microsystems Inc. president Jonathan Schwartz, is the best course of action.

"I dont think any customer cares about that. They have real problems to solve and real challenges to meet during the day, and I think those kinds of shenanigans are not necessary or needed," Szulik said.

Martin Taylor, Microsofts general manager for platform strategy, told eWEEK on Thursday that he did not know specifically of the outreach to Tiemann. But, he said, "it wouldnt surprise me."

"We spend a lot of time looking for areas of dialogue with many industry players, and this is not out of the ordinary for us by any means," Taylor said.

Stacey Quandt, an analyst at the Robert Francis Group who is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, told eWEEK that Microsofts trend of reaching out to those in the open-source community underscores the companys realization that it could not exist in isolation.

"Microsoft officials have also publicly said that interoperability is at the top of their agenda, so this outreach is an extension of that," Quandt said. "They are now working collaboratively with Sun Microsystems, and they know they need to participate in a broader community."

While Quandt said this more friendly approach was undoubtedly motivated by input from Microsofts biggest customers, she added that the fact that Windows and Linux are the two fastest-growing operating systems also played an important role.

Next Page: Are open-source projects on the way from Microsoft?

Open Source from Microsoft

?"> Microsoft officials themselves also have been dropping hints about doing more open-source projects. In fact, Jason Matusow, the director of Microsofts Shared Source program, has been using his Weblog recently to start trying to catalog the myriad Microsoft shared- and open-sourced projects that are below the radar.

Hundreds of such Microsoft projects could be scattered across the Web, by company officials estimates. Some live on GotDotNet Workspaces, Microsofts alternative to the SourceForge code repository. Others are private projects developed by Microsoft employees in their off hours.

And still others are projects that Microsoft acquired when hiring new employees—such as IronPython, a .Net implementation of the Python language developed by Jim Hugunin, who is now a Microsoft employee.

Matusow recently said to expect to see Microsoft highlight more of these hidden shared- and open-source projects. At the same time, there could be a flood of additional, new Microsoft shared-source and open-source projects, Matusow said, if Microsoft is successful in its quest to create simplified licenses.

He said such licenses would enable employees to more quickly and easily seek and obtain shared- and/or open-source software licenses for new projects. Microsoft would like to make these available as templates, Matusow said.

While Matusow wouldnt specify a timetable for release of these kinds of templates, but he said to expect this space to get very interesting in "the coming ten months."

In Microsoft parlance, "shared source" covers a lot of ground—17 different code-sharing programs, to be exact.

Microsofts shared-source umbrella covers everything from the source code for three products (WiX, FlexWiki and Active Template Library) that it offers under bona fide open-source licenses to the companys Government Source Licensing Program. This past spring, Microsoft broadened its shared-source initiative to include seven more Central and Eastern European countries.

In reality, additional Microsoft shared-source projects exist beyond those highlighted on the companys shared-source page. Josh Ledgard, a program manager on Microsofts Visual Studio community team, blogged earlier this year about a few of the less-celebrated Microsoft source-sharing projects.

Among the under-the-radar shared- or open-source projects that Ledgard highlighted are:

  • The VBCommenter PowerToy;
  • Visual Studio.Net Academic Tools (including Assignment Manager Server, Assignment Manager Faculty Client and Assignment Manager Student Client); and
  • Various Windows forms controls (such as ColorPicker.NET)

    Ledgard said he thinks "there are a TON more projects scattered across the Internet beyond samples that Microsoft employees have made available, but its difficult to find them."

    He called for his compatriots to make their shared- and open-source projects more easily discoverable, as Microsoft archrival Google did earlier this year by consolidating its projects in a single repository of open-source developer tools.

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

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