Microsofts Linux Guru Woos Coders with Freebies

Bill Hilf, Redmond's director of platform technology, gave a session at the conference that provided a look into Microsoft's Linux/Open Source Software Lab; he also gave attendees a full copy of Microsoft Virtual Server Enterprise Edition.

As Microsoft continues to try and convince its enterprise customers and the open-software community that it is committed to interoperability and working with them, Bill Hilf, its director of platform technology, gave a session at the annual LinuxWorld Conference & Expo that provided a look into the Linux/Open Source Software Lab at Microsofts Redmond campus.

In a session titled "Managing Linux in a mixed environment…at Microsoft? A look inside the Linux/Open Source Software Lab at Microsoft," Hilf told the audience of more than 100 that he had Linux and open-source credentials, having worked with the software at both eToys and IBM before moving to Microsoft Corp.

"My role is not to exterminate Linux. It is to be very critical and objective for Microsoft, our customers and the open-source community," he said.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about Hilf and his role at Microsoft.

Hilf and his team, which consists of four permanent program managers and a group of four to six rotating contractors, help the different product groups at Microsoft understand open-source software and all the models that exist around that.

"We believe that understanding the technical landscape around open-source software can help our teams drive product improvement," he said.

The team includes Gentoo Linux founder Daniel Robbins, as well as others with deep Linux, Unix and open-source software administration.

"Almost all of the team has worked in some form of a mixed environment. They are very opinionated and very critical, and I like them that way," he said.

The technology analysis center runs Linux and open-source workloads and scenarios, with more than 300 server and client systems running.

The lab was essentially built from the ground up, and this created a lot of issues as there was a lot of non-Microsoft technologies running, both software and hardware.

To underscore that point, Hilf put up a slide showing the operating systems and software in use at the lab, including lots of different Linux, Unix and Windows operating systems and different versions of those as well as other open source software like Ganglia, Karamba and Xen.

The lab team also looked for software that might be useful to its product teams and customers.

An example of this was the effective and efficient Samba Torture (smbtorture) testing tool, which Microsoft had decided to use to test some of its own stuff.

"While doing that, we found a bug, and we submitted that back and it was fixed. There has to be a relationship and communication both ways. We all have to listen as well as talk," he said.

Turning to the cross-platform management technology that was available and used in the lab, Hilf pointed to Novells Red Carpet technology, Kickstart, Vintela Management Extensions and Microsofts Systems Management Server.

Asking the audience how many of them used SMS for management, several put their hands up, to which Hilf quipped "hide your badges."

Microsofts Lab team also used Virtual PC images and Virtual Server 2005, and each attendee was given a full copy of Microsoft Virtual Server Enterprise Edition, which Hilf said had a $1,000 value, as well as a 180-day trial copy of Windows Server 2003.

On the desktop front, Hilf said that configuring the latest Linux desktop for applications often means that things have to be configured inside the application.

"No one has sat down and come up with something that configures these applications in a uniform way," he said, adding that he has been using Linux desktops for years now "and so am entitled to criticize it."

Historically, getting Active Directory to work with Linux was a non-trivial, very complex task, Hilf said, before suggesting a product from a Microsoft partner, Centrify DirectControl, as a solution in this regard.

He also briefly addressed the R2 release of Windows Server 2003 later this year, saying it "takes a step forward in Unix interoperability, including a full subsystem for Unix applications, which resides at the same level as the Win32 subsystem.

"The key message is that this is part of the operating system for us and a key part of what we are providing. This is a powerful tool for those looking to move their applications to a new platform," Hilf said.

/zimages/6/28571.gifRead more here about Unix Services in Windows Server 2003 R2.

With regard to Microsofts Monad technology—its alterna-tive to the scripting shells that Unix and Linux programmers know and love—which is not just an empty shell, Hilf quipped, but had been developed because of a weak command shell that had spotty coverage and which was fairly inconsistent.

Monad runs on Windows XP and needs the .Net Framework 2.0 to run.

Monad had not been removed from Windows Vista as had been widely reported, and no virus had been written to exploit it as was also widely reported, he said.

"Rather, what was written was a way to modify text information. Had you run and executed that, it would have indeed been bad for your system. But it was not a virus," Hilf said.

Monad would be available in different technologies and would eventually be a part of the operating system, he said.

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