Microsoft and Its Open-Source Gambit

Microsoft's most recent move to support for open source is its sponsoring the Open Source Census.

Microsoft has made another move in its open-source gambit by becoming a sponsor of the Open Source Census

The move follows Microsoft's partnership with the Eclipse Foundation, where Microsoft pledged to support Eclipse open-source projects at the EclipseCon conference in March. Now Microsoft joins the Open Source Census effort as a sponsor.

The Open Source Census, founded by OpenLogic with help from IDC and other sponsors, is a global, collaborative project to collect and share quantitative data on the use of open-source software in the enterprise. The Open Source Census initiative uses open-source tools to scan enterprise computers for all installed open-source software. The results of these scans can then be contributed anonymously to the Open Source Census, which aggregates the data for publication.

So what is Microsoft's interest here? Are they for real? What do they stand to gain? Well, plenty. And I'm not going to attempt to answer the other questions, because I can only speculate. But, as for Microsoft being real in its support for open source, of course they're for real. Yet it depends on what perspective you're looking at. Microsoft is serious about supporting open source in some respects and fiercely competing with it in others.

Indeed, some say part of Microsoft's overall strategy with its open-source support is to participate in different projects and efforts so as to gain intelligence about the open-source world the company must compete with.

"Microsoft actively participates in open source through Microsoft engineers and product teams, with industry partners and with OSS [open-source software] projects to develop interoperable solutions that meet customer needs," Sam Ramji, senior director for platform strategy at Microsoft, said in a statement. "With the growth of open-source development running on Windows-including major communities like Apache, Firefox and Eclipse; community development projects on Sourceforge and Codeplex; and partnerships with commercial open-source vendors like JBoss, Zend (PHP), SugarCRM and SpikeSource-the business opportunities and the choices available to partners and customers on the Windows platform have never been greater. Our customers, partners and developers are working in increasingly heterogeneous environments, and our participation in industry projects like The Open Source Census are relevant for the ecosystem in which we participate."

Microsoft also in May hired Lauren Cooney, a former IBMer and BEA Systems employee and community development enthusiast to help focus on open source and community efforts. I ran into Cooney at JavaOne in San Francisco and she said she was excited about her new opportunity at Microsoft. She said she looks forward to helping Microsoft continue to open up. Cooney runs the Web Platform team in Microsoft's Application Platform and Developer Division.

In a late-May blog post, Cooney wrote: "The acceptance of the vision of Microsoft as a more open company was crystal clear as something that has to be done both internally and externally at Microsoft. It's always been a principle at Microsoft to give transparency to what we do, but now, we're fully committed to being a more open company. I sat down with Sam Ramji, Robert Duffner and Brian Goldfarb just this week (Sam who I worked with at BEA, and Robert, who I worked with at both BEA and IBM; Brian's my new boss) and we have some good ideas of where we need to go and what we need to do to get this done. Will this happen overnight? No. But the shift is happening, and I'm really excited about what we can do. There's so much opportunity here, it's just incredible. And people are committed to making it happen, and to see the change in that thought process is terrific."

Moreover, Cooney said that while she was in the process of interviewing for the job at Microsoft, "I made it very clear that I care about the community first, and the company second. Every single person I talked to (from VPs like Dan'l Lewin and GMs like Sheila Gulati, right down to the business manager in the office, I kid you not) understood that this was critical to success. And that while other divisions might care about revenues or competition, our key job is ensuring that developers are successful, regardless of the circumstances or products they are developing on."

In addition to Microsoft, other organizations, such as ActiveState, EnterpriseDB, Oregon State University's Open Source Lab, and, have joined the Open Source Census at various levels, including a new level called "Friends of the Open Source Census." ActiveState, EnterpriseDB and joined at the "Friends" level, and the OSU Open Source Lab joined Microsoft as a new sponsor of the Open Source Census.

OpenLogic launched the Open Source Census in April, and according to results thus far, some early trends have emerged. For one, Ubuntu is the top Linux distribution on machines scanned to date. Various versions of Ubuntu accounted for almost 50 percent of all Linux distributions installed on participating machines. Debian accounted for 14 percent; SUSE Linux accounted for 12 percent and Fedora Core had 7 percent. Also, 66 percent of machines scanned in the first two months were outside the United States. U.S. participants represented about a third of participants, and the top five installed open-source packages, in order, were: FireFox, Xerces, Zlib, Xalan and Prototype.

"The Open Source Census gives enterprises the chance, for the first time and at no cost, to see what open-source software is already installed on their computers and to compare themselves to similar companies," said Kim Weins, senior vice president of products and marketing OpenLogic. "Having this visibility helps with everything from open-source governance to plans for buying open-source support."

So the census helps enterprises better manage and plan for their use of open-source software. Microsoft's sponsorship of the Open Source Census is an interesting wrinkle in the company's strategy.