Microsoft vs. Linux: Execs Talk Detente

Microsoft has invited Michael Tiemann, president of the Open Source Initiative, to start a constructive dialogue. Tiemann says he'll take the offer at face value but calls it an "attempt to quell an internal civil war" at Microsoft.

NEW ORLEANS—The often-hostile relations between Microsoft and the open-source community are thawing, and new dialogues appear to be opening between senior officials in both camps.

In continuing its outreach to the most prominent members of the open-source community, Microsoft has invited Michael Tiemann, president of the Open Source Initiative and vice president of open-source affairs at Linux vendor Red Hat, to meet and start a constructive dialogue.

"Microsoft reached out to me as president of the OSI, and they basically said they wanted to begin a productive conversation, and we agreed to take that at face value," Tiemann told eWEEK in an interview at the Red Hat Summit here Thursday.

While Tiemann has not yet met with anyone from Microsoft, most likely to be Brad Smith, its general counsel, they have exchanged e-mails and a meeting is likely to occur.

Earlier this year, Smith extended an olive branch to the open-source community, asking for a sit-down meeting to see how his company can better work with them.

Asked why he thinks Microsoft wants to meet with him and what he thinks they are interested in discussing, Tiemann said he still thinks the Microsoft Shared Source program represents an "attempt to quell an internal civil war" at Microsoft.

"There are smart people at Microsoft who realize there is another side to the argument," he said.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about Microsoft keeping up its presence at open-source events.

When Tiemann first said this in 2001 while debating Craig Mundie, Microsofts chief technology officer, Mundie responded that "there is no dissent at Microsoft."

Whether an internal war is going on or not, Tiemann said, "We are happy if they are willing to take a new position and a new look. Nothing could be better than for Microsoft to embrace fair competition and abandon their so unsuccessful past practices."

Asked about those in the community who still perceive Microsoft as an enemy to be avoided at all costs, Tiemann responded, "So, whats the price of being wrong? There are some prices that cant be paid and others where you say, boy, that was a learning experience. But if you dont try, youll never know."

Microsoft Corp.s outreach to Tiemann follows a similar move earlier this year to engage Red Hat Inc. CEO Matt Szulik, who reportedly met Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for dinner in Manhattan.

Szulik would not confirm that a meeting had taken place, although several executives at the Redmond, Wash., software giant have confirmed it to eWEEK. But when pushed by eWEEK to say why he might consider meeting with a competitor such as Microsoft, he said the fact that "we have common customers is the obvious reason."

"I think there is also a recognition that Linux and open-source software is a reality that is here to stay and is not going to disappear. They could also be introductory discussions about business," Szulik said.

He added that Red Hat thinks that participating in dialogue and not hiding behind rhetoric, such as that from Sun Microsystems Inc. president Jonathan Schwartz, is the best course of action.

"I dont think any customer cares about that. They have real problems to solve and real challenges to meet during the day, and I think those kinds of shenanigans are not necessary or needed," Szulik said.

Martin Taylor, Microsofts general manager for platform strategy, told eWEEK on Thursday that he did not know specifically of the outreach to Tiemann. But, he said, "it wouldnt surprise me."

"We spend a lot of time looking for areas of dialogue with many industry players, and this is not out of the ordinary for us by any means," Taylor said.

Stacey Quandt, an analyst at the Robert Francis Group who is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, told eWEEK that Microsofts trend of reaching out to those in the open-source community underscores the companys realization that it could not exist in isolation.

"Microsoft officials have also publicly said that interoperability is at the top of their agenda, so this outreach is an extension of that," Quandt said. "They are now working collaboratively with Sun Microsystems, and they know they need to participate in a broader community."

While Quandt said this more friendly approach was undoubtedly motivated by input from Microsofts biggest customers, she added that the fact that Windows and Linux are the two fastest-growing operating systems also played an important role.

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