Microsoft and Open Source: The Song Remains the Same

Microsoft has appointed a new point man to put a face on its interaction with the open source community. That man, Robert Duffner, takes on a big task as senior director of Platform and Open Source Software strategy at Microsoft. His IBM and BEA roots will help him place his mark on the Microsoft strategy, but the core message remains the same.

NEW YORK -- Microsoft has a new open source point man to promote the software giant's interaction with the open source community.

Robert Duffner has taken over the role of senior director of Platform and Open Source Software strategy at Microsoft. Sam Ramji held that role for awhile until relinquishing it to Duffner. Ramji has moved up to take a broader role in Microsoft's overall approach to open source.

Now Duffner leads the team that drives marketing communications and community outreach across a diverse set of audiences that include IT professionals, developers, government and academia. He also oversees Port25, the primary communication channel for the open source community at Microsoft.

According to his bio, prior to joining Microsoft, Duffner was the lead executive responsible for establishing and executing IBM's open source software business development strategy and the emerging markets investment. Indeed, Duffner's team held the distinction of introducing IBM's first-ever open source based product support offering (WebSphere Application Server Community Edition and Apache Geronimo) from the IBM Software Group. He has also held senior positions at BEA Systems, Vignette and PeopleSoft, with over 16 years experience in the enterprise software industry, Microsoft said.

So not much will change in the way of messaging regarding Microsoft's outlook on open source. It didn't change much when Jason Matusow handed some of the handling of the Microsoft open source strategy to Bill Hilf, or when Hilf handed it off to Ramji.

I met with Duffner and my former eWEEK colleague Peter Galli for lunch here in New York.

The overall messaging hasn't changed much, but Microsoft is doing a little more with various open source communities. For instance, Duffner said he believes one of Microsoft's biggest moves with the open source community this year was its decision to invest in the Apache Software Foundation And not only the financial investment, but that Microsoft also contributed to an Apache project for the first time was "probably the biggest thing we achieved in 2008," Duffner said.

Through its acquisition of Powerset, Microsoft contributed to the HBase project, Duffner said. Bryan Kirschner, Director of Open Source Strategy, at Microsoft said in a blog post about Powerset:

""HBase, which is an important component of Powerset's development, is developed as part of the Apache Software Foundation's Hadoop project, and runs on top of the Hadoop Distributed File System, providing BigTable-type capabilities. (HBase initially started as a contribution to Hadoop before becoming a full sub-project of Hadoop in January 2008.)""

Moreover, Kirschner said, "The next ten years of software will also be a time of growth and change, where both open source and Microsoft communities will grow together, so it is exciting to see contribution to HBase join contribution to ADOdb, a popular data access layer for PHP used by many applications (this was Microsoft's first code contribution to PHP projects, but not the last), and OpenPegasus, an important part of System Center's new cross-platform approach."

Meanwhile, Duffner was particularly interested in driving home the point that Microsoft still competes with open source applications "on an application versus application basis," and Microsoft competes with commercial Linux vendors, such as Red Hat "on the platform versus platform basis." He said these lines often get blurred in the telling of the open source story versus Microsoft's. And he said the messages out in the market right now about open source automatically equating to cost savings versus Microsoft offerings are simply not correct.

For his part, Duffner said, "the responsible question isn't 'How much will I pay for the platform up-front?' but rather 'Which operating system will save my organization more, year after year, by offering easily available and easily trained resources, and on a platform that provides the reliability and manageability to help minimize downtime as my IT environment scales?'"

Duffner also pointed out that today there are more than 80,000 open source applications that run on Windows, 30,000 of which were built specifically and only to run on Windows.

See, not much has changed in terms of messaging. Microsoft started its strategy of peaceful coexistence with the open source community a few years ago. After rumors began to swirl, back in 2005, of top Microsoft executives meeting with leaders of open source software vendors and communities, I just happened to be in attendance at a small event on Maryland's Eastern Shore where Microsoft senior vice president and general counsel, Brad Smith, came out and offered an olive branch to the open source community. And the core Microsoft stance has been the same ever since: "We will work with you, but we also compete with you."

So not a whole lot of the message has really changed; except some of the faces in front of the community. However, Microsoft deserves points for evolving to the point that it is hiring more and more open source aficionados, and delving into more sophisticated ways of supporting open source - such as contributing to projects under various licenses.