Open-Source Movement Gains Ground on Microsoft

A significant customer opportunity is emerging for open-source software, as more state and federal governments loosen their restrictions on implementations of such software.

A significant customer opportunity is emerging for open-source software, as more state and federal governments loosen their restrictions on implementations of such software. As the trend unfolds, Microsoft Corp. is insisting that it can coexist peacefully with the model.

Last week, Texas state Sen. John Corona introduced Bill SB 1579, which would enable the state to consider open-source technology in its software procurements. Earlier this month, Oregon state Rep. Phil Barnhart presented Bill 2892, which included similar language.

Open source has not been allowed in these states, as well as others, because bidders on state projects have had to be commercial entities. As a result, software from The Apache Software Foundation and other purely open-source organizations was ineligible. These pending state-level mandates join similar initiatives in the works in South America and Europe.

Nevertheless, the trend fazes Microsoft little. "I see a world of coexistence," said Jason Matusow, Microsoft SSI (Shared Source Initiative) program manager, here at the Open Standards/ Open Source for National and Local eGovernment Programs in the U.S. and EU conference. "There is not going to be a world where one model wins over the other."

Microsoft technology supports open standards and has spawned initiatives such as the Mono Project, an open-source version of the .Net Framework being developed by Ximian Inc., Matusow was quick to point out.

Indeed, last week at the Web Services Edge East conference in Boston, Miguel de Icaza, chief technology officer at Ximian and project leader for the Mono Project, said Mono will deliver Version 1.0 of its server-side components in September. He also said Mono will publish a second- generation just-in-time compiler this week that will include PowerPC platform support and optimized x86 code.

But to really tap open-source momentum, said Steven Goldsmith, application software development supervisor at FCCI Insurance Group Inc., in Sarasota, Fla., Microsoft will have to do more.

"[Microsoft could] contribute something to the open-source community like the entire .Net API, not just parts of the specification," Goldsmith said. "You cannot count on Mono ever being 100 percent compatible if all the APIs are not open. [SSI] is a halfhearted attempt to look like open source."

SSI lets key customers of the Redmond, Wash., company access its source code. "Showing source code by itself without any freedom transfer—via the software license—isnt the same as free software," said Jarma Poulsen, a developer with international consulting company Atos Origin, in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

As an incentive to get developers to deliver more and better-quality open-source software, Tony Stanco, founding director of the Washington-based Center for Open Source & Government, has proposed the Open Source Threshold Escrow Program. Through O-STEP, developers would release source code to open source after it earned a certain amount of revenue.

Dendy Young, CEO of GTSI Inc., a Chantilly, Va., supplier of software, hardware and services to the government, said he has not felt any pressure from open source.

"I dont see the government adopting Apache to run major, substantive systems," Young said. "When you are running government systems, you are accountable. You want proven systems."

Stormy Peters, manager of Hewlett-Packard Co.s open-source program office, said that while there are many business cases to be made for supporting open source, there are also good reasons not to. "The product is a control point for you," said Peters, in Fort Collins, Colo. "I cant see where Microsoft would open-source Windows. They make a lot of money off it, and it makes no sense for them to do it."

Additional reporting by Scot Petersen