I confess that Microsoft has been surprising me a lot in the past few days. First, Microsoft paid Sun off, and then it released Windows Installer XML (WiX), a command line toolkit for building Windows installation packages from XML source code and vice-versa under the Common Public License (CPL) of the Open Source Initiative (OSI).
Although no programmers household name, WiX isnt a toy program. Its being used in upcoming versions of brand-name Microsoft products such as Office and Exchange. And in case youre wondering, CPL is a real, no-BS, open-source license.
So, whats going on here? Is Microsoft converting to the open-source religion? Hardly. I think theyre continuing to implement plans for battling open source that Microsoft staffers first outlined back in 1998s Halloween memo.
In that strategy memo, Microsoft staffers suggested that by embracing and extending open protocols, Microsoft could freeze open source out of the marketplace. Jason Matusow, manager of Microsofts shared-source initiative, may say to my colleague Mary Jo Foley, “Weve been learning from open source about the importance of sharing code with developers,” and thats true, but thats only part of the story.
Long before Microsoft learned the “importance of sharing code,” it learned that to beat any competitor, it should “embrace and extend” that competitors technology. Want to take over the Internet? Embrace Web browsing technology with a free browser, Internet Explorer, thats incorporated into the operating system, and extend it with proprietary “enhancements” that make other browsers look bad. It worked.
So, although some people rave about how great Mozilla, Opera and Firefox are, according to OneStat.com, Internet Explorer this January had a total global-usage share of 94.8 percent. Second place went to Mozilla with an almost insignificant 1.8 percent, and Opera 7 came in with a global usage of 0.8 percent.
Embrace and extend works, and Microsofts first dabbling of releasing its own, formerly proprietary code under a real open-source license is just another example of this business philosophy in operation. Indeed, its part of the Halloween plan, where one of the suggestions to derail open source is to “put out parts of the source code [to] try to generate hacker interest in adding value to MS-sponsored code bases.”
The WiX release does more than just that, though. Looking more closely, WiX enables developers to translate programs from Windows Installer Databases (.msi/.msm) formats to a text-based, XML-file format. XML is an open standard, but to work with MSI/MSM, those XML files have a very specific format. Now, what company has already sought patent protection for specific expressions of XML code? The answer is, of course, Microsoft, with its Office XML formats.
Has Microsoft done this with WiXs XML formats yet? I dont know. But if the pros from Redmond havent yet, they will. They did it for Office XML document formats; theyll do it for this. Thus, Microsofts open-source code will work only on Microsoft-proprietary XML to produce Microsoft-proprietary installation programs. With open source like this, who needs proprietary programs?
This is also right out of the Halloween playbook. In it, Microsoft cites merging open protocols such as Directory Name Services (DNS) with Active Directory and changing “the rules of the game in the file-serving space” (aka Microsofts Longhorn WinFS) as examples of beating open source by extending commodity protocols. Microsoft is now in the process of doing this to XML, and WiX is just one more step along the way.
Now, while it may look like Microsoft is doing something new, or perhaps even something helpful to the open-source community, its not. What Microsoft is really doing is putting more of the Halloween memos plans into action. Why shouldnt it? The Halloween plans are just an elaboration of Microsofts time-tested embrace-and-extend technique. The only embrace Microsoft is really giving the open-source community is a stranglehold.
eWEEK.com Linux & Open Source Center Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.
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