Thursday, January 15, 2009

From the Editors: Microsoft and open source

Microsoft has long had a hate-hate relationship with open source—not only with specific open-source projects like Linux, but also with the concept of non-proprietary software.

It’s not hard to see why Microsoft execs like Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer have been historically vitriolic about open source. Many of Microsoft’s most profitable products have open-source competitors. To name just a few: Windows has Linux. IIS has Apache. SQL Server has MySQL. Visual Studio has Eclipse and NetBeans. Internet Explorer has Firefox. Office has OpenOffice. .NET has Java (which is sort of open source).

Some of those competitors, like Linux-based servers, represent a serious long-term threat to Microsoft’s revenue. Others, like OpenOffice, haven’t had a significant impact. Even so, Microsoft has also had a philosophical difference with the entire open-source movement. Ballmer, for example, has made public statements claiming that open-source software is a cancer and that open-source software is not trustworthy.

One should not blame Microsoft for speaking out against competing products and against a model for software development that’s the opposite of its own closed-source, proprietary-protocols model for customer lock-in. As a for-profit company, Microsoft’s executives have a fiduciary responsibility to consider their company’s revenues. If they honestly believe that open source is a threat to their revenue, they have no choice but to fight against it.

However, it’s clear that today Microsoft does not see open source as a complete threat like it did in the early 2000s, when it was most vocal against Linux and other open-source projects. As our interview with Sam Ramji shows, Microsoft is beginning to provide its product teams with the flexibility to work with open-source software and to consider interoperability with open-source software.

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