Microsoft Makes Its Open-Source Move

Opinion: Microsoft is reaching out to the open-source community. Should the community reach back?

The signs were there. Microsoft had been making nice with open source for some time now.

First, in late March, Ballmer and Red Hats CEO Matthew Szulik met for more than an hour at a McCormick & Schmicks restaurant in New York at Microsofts request. We still dont know what they talked about even after news of the meeting leaked in May, but I think were beginning to get the picture now.

Then, in April, Brad Smith, Microsofts general counsel, called for bridge building between Microsoft, its competitors and the open-source community.

Next, earlier this week, Microsoft announced that its forthcoming Office 12 Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats will be released under Office 2003-style royalty-free licenses.

And now, Michael Tiemann, president of the Open Source Initiative and vice president of open-source affairs at Linux vendor Red Hat Inc., has said, "They [Microsoft] wanted to begin a productive conversation, and we agreed to take that at face value."

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read "Microsoft vs. Linux: Execs Talk Detente."

Has Microsoft seen the open-source light like Paul on the road to Damascus? Are Bill and Melinda Gates going to have Richard M. Stallman over for dinner? Will Eric Raymond and Ballmer go to the shooting range together?

Ah … I dont think so.

Neither, as the rumor mills had it a few weeks ago, do I see Microsoft buying Red Hat.

No, what I see happening here is that Microsoft making a very pragmatic decision that if you cant beat them, co-opt them.

Red Hat has a popular marketing campaign that quotes Gandhis famous quote, "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."

Or, you can join the winning team.

So, which is it? Is Microsoft trying to sneak its way into open-source lines to spread mischief, or do they want to win with open-source too?

I think its both.

Microsoft has a long, long history of making business alliances that end up benefiting only Microsoft.

For example, when Microsoft found that the Internet was going to be a big deal, it needed a Web browser and it needed one fast, since an upstart company named Netscape seemed to be going places.

So, Microsoft arranged with Spyglass to use its Mosaic code, the basis for Netscape, as the foundation for Internet Explorer. In return, Spyglass would receive a tiny quarterly fee and a percentage of Microsofts IE revenues for the software.

Of course, Microsoft then bundled IE with Windows, so there was no revenue to split. Spyglass eventually sued Microsoft and won $8 million for its troubles. Thats chicken feed compared with the value that IE brought Microsoft.

Next Page: Playing proprietary games with open standards.