Microsoft and Open Source: If You Cant Beat Em…

Microsoft will take its message to the open-source masses at next week's LinuxWorld gathering. How will it play with penguinistas?

Microsoft wont be waving the white flag when it camps out in Booth 1390 at LinuxWorld Expo next week. But its execs wont be adorned in pith helmets, either.

Word of Microsofts decision to staff a booth at the show first hit in July. Since then, Microsoft has been honing the message it intends to take to the Linux masses.

Microsoft wants to relate, geek-to-geek, to the LinuxWorld conventioneers at the San Francisco Moscone Center. To do so, the Redmond software maker plans to show off four of its technologies that it believes developers will find of interest, according to Microsoft officials. These include its shared-source software-licensing plan; Services for Unix (SFU) Windows utilities; Embedded XP software (for the retail/point-of-sale crowd); and Web Matrix, a new hobbyist programming tool.

A number of LinuxWorld attendees probably would prefer that Microsoft were barred outright from the gathering, concedes Peter Houston, senior director of the Windows Server Product Management Group. But Microsoft is counting on reaching the remaining 70 percent to 80 percent of those who are interested in seeing what the leader of the "closed-source" software world has to say.

"We want to reach those who are likely to be operating in a mixed (Windows/Linux) environment," Houston says. "How do these people want us to talk to them? They dont want to hear myopic thinking. We need to be more pragmatic."

Houston—who began in February to split his time 50/50 between setting Microsofts Windows server strategy and working on competitive analysis and strategy vis-à-vis Sun, IBM, Novell and the various open-source companies—has his work cut out for him.

Until recently, Microsofts top brass has tended to shoot from the hip when talking about Linux and open source software. Houston says he and his team are working to make Microsoft executives well-publicized descriptions of open source as "cancer" and "un-American" a distant memory.

Houston meets once a month with CEO Steve Ballmer to review the competitive landscape and top competitive priorities, he says. And Houston throws in bits about what Microsoft can learn from the open source world, such as how to build tighter links with its early-adopter community.

This isnt to say Microsoft is going soft on open source. Houston says the open-source user base should know that Microsofts centralized engineering, build labs and testing facility is what makes the company tick.

"With Linux, a lot of the functionality has been driven toward commoditization," Houston says. "People in that community need to figure out a model of innovation—things that benefit customers—and do those as fast as they can."

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