Microsoft's Platform Strategy Is 'Open' to Interpretation

Sam Ramji, Microsoft's senior director of platform strategy describes the company's evolving open-source involvement in this eWEEK interview.

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Sam Ramji is focused on Linux and open source, which is more significant when you consider that he works for Microsoft.

Ramji leads Microsoft's platform strategy efforts across the company, including long-term strategic planning in the Windows Server and Tools organization. But Ramji's primary focus is to drive Microsoft's Linux and open-source strategy, working together with Microsoft technology development teams and open-source communities to build interoperable solutions.

Ramji sat down with eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention at the end of July.

What are the announcements Microsoft is going to make here at OSCON?

First of all, for the first time Microsoft will be submitting a patch to a GPL V2 [General Public License Version 2]-based project. The second thing is we've put an enormous number-over 10 and close to 150-of our protocols and formats into a perpetually royalty-free license.

That includes all of the Office binary specifications, and this is really relevant to a specific project called Apache Poi, which is an Apache-licensed Java implementation of Microsoft binary file formats. It's growing to include Open

And the third and final big chunk is that Microsoft is becoming a sponsor of the Apache Software Foundation.

So what was the GPL V2 project you submitted the patch to?

It is ADOdb. ADOdb is a PHP project that is a data access layer a lot of PHP applications use. In February we launched Windows Server 2008, which included support for PHP on Windows Server. Since then the SQL Server team has shipped a PHP-native driver for SQL Server, which is a dramatic improvement to the previous access technology that existed. And this is the first step in taking that set of technologies and making it available all the way up the PHP stack.

So if you think about the whole stack, you need an operating system, you need a database, then you've got substacks within PHP. You've got things like ADOdb for data access, then in the future you can expect us to do more contributions to the application layer-things like photo sharing, bulletin boards and content management systems.

So this is the first, and it was a big deal. It took a long time to figure out the way we could do that in a way that protected the project and protected Microsoft, and everybody had the right rights. I think there are some things that IBM figured out and put into practice over the last decade, and Microsoft is starting to figure out how to do that.

I think that's the twofold significance of the news. First, that we're contributing all the way up to drive PHP on Windows Server 2008 and future versions of the server, and doing that with a level of sophistication understanding how that app layer works. And, second, we're figuring out the mechanics of how we can submit patches to GPL V2 projects.

So what is the significance of this submission?

It's something that we hadn't figured out how to do before. We've contributed code to open-source projects like MPICH2, which is a parallel programming stack that is managed by Argonne National Labs. That was the first big contribution to a third-party open-source project that Microsoft made. A lot of people have thought that GPL V2 was just an area that we would not be able to contribute to, just based on our licensing and our take on how intellectual property applies to software. We figured that having a line of sight into open-source technologies was going to be good for us after there were a couple of viable projects.