Microsoft's Open Source Guru Faces Uphill Battle

Microsoft's Sam Ramji is like a turkey knocking on Thanksgiving's door. Ramji has the unenviable task of stretching his neck out into the open source world as Microsoft's representative. And on top of it, his employer has preheated the oven with years of hubris, sleights of hand and broken promises.

Ramji's Sisyphean task was evident last week in Portland at the Open Source Conference (OSCon) and will likely be fuel for chatter at next week's LinuxWorld gathering in San Francisco. (Disclosure: Network World's parent company IDG sponsors LinuxWorld.)

In Portland, Ramji, who runs the Open Source Software Lab for Microsoft and is the company's director of open source technology strategy, gave a 15-minute presentation highlighting Microsoft's work with open source, the company's first code submission ever to the PHP community and a $100,000 investment to become one of only three Platinum sponsors of the Apache Foundation (Yahoo and Google are the others).

Then it turned ugly.

The first questioner from the audience wanted to know what it would take for Microsoft not to claim patent infringement violations in open source code.

His inquiry was followed by whoops, whistles and thunderous applause.

The next question was about trust, as in why should we trust you this time? And the next referenced what the questioner called the "Office Open XML debacle" and accused Microsoft of using its power to buy international standards. 

Ramji, dressed in a Firefox T-shirt like it was a virtual bullet proof vest, is use to the machine gun fire and didn't shy away. He mentions cultural change that he has to facilitate within proprietary-minded Microsoft, trust built within an 18-month working relationship with Samba creator Jeremy Allison and others, and the need to provide more clarity around patents and the company's work to address shortfalls in U.S. patent law.

As he left the stage, he invited people to the back of the room for more questions, which becomes a six-deep ring of fire that lasted nearly 30 minutes.

"People stopped and wanted to ask more questions," he said later during an interview. "They thanked me for being here, appreciated the change agency work that my team has the privilege of doing outside the company."

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