Bill Hilf, head of Microsoft open-source strategy, spoke at the OReilly Open Source Convention here on July 26 and acknowledged that Microsofts relationship with the open-source community has at times been schizophrenic, but that the company has had good intentions.
"Today were submitting these projects to the OSI to get them into the approval process," Hilf said. "Weve got some good results, but weve just scratched the surface of what we can do. Where were going in the future with our software and services, the opportunity for Microsoft to work with open source is tremendous."
Hilf said people ask him if all of Microsoft is on the same page in the companys push to work with open source.
"We are," he said. "Theres not some switch that Bill Gates has in the basement that he switches from left to right to move the company."
In addition to the news about the submission to OSI, Hilf said Microsoft has created a new open-source Web site to show how the company hopes to participate, partner, grow and learn to interact with the open-source community. "The framework behind this weve been growing for three years."
Hilf, who is balding, said when he joined Microsoft 3 and a half years ago he had a full afro hair style.
"I look forward to being a change agent," he said. "I get called everything from the Great Satan to the little boy with his finger in the dike to a change agent."
When asked about the controversy over Microsofts claims that free and open-source software violates more than 200 of the companys patents, Hilf said, "We made a mistake in the way we managed that. If I had my way Id change it. All the tiles on my human heat shield were hot from the fallout around that."
Moreover, Hilf said, "that article [that covered Microsofts position on patents] was extremely aggressive and made us look like a draconian, racketeering…" As Hilf paused to think of another word, an audience member shouted out: "predatory," to the applause of the audience.
"I immediately did an interview saying that what that article represents is not the path we are on," Hilf said. "We announced our deal with Novell and there were a lot of people who saw the good in that, though there were some who didnt agree," he said.
However, Hilf said, "software patents are tough and I actually wrote some at IBM. I believe in the concept of intellectual property. There is a lot of work to raise the bar on how we think about patents and intellectual property."
Rod Johnson, CEO of Interface21, based in West Melbourne, Fla., the maker of the open-source Spring Framework, said one of the problems with companies that work to create their own licenses is that they tend to migrate to their own licenses after finding a way to legitimize them.
"The problem is the complexity of how to reconcile one with another," he said. However, he said Microsofts move toward the OSI is suggestive of "the fact that Microsoft realizes open source is here to stay and theyre going to have to deal with it."