Real change at Microsoft in accepting open source
Most recently, Microsoft settled a patent-infringement case it filed against GPS device maker TomTom over patents that involved TomTom's implementation of Linux, a case that stirred up old feelings among open source companies that Microsoft plans to reignite a patent fight against them. Microsoft insisted the TomTom suit was a patent issue and not any specific grievance against Linux or open source software.
Most of the Linux community accepted that assessment, but leaders such as Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, says that any patent litigation against a technology that involves open source will keep the community wary. "It's just another example in the mind of an open source developer that this is not a positive company to be jointly working on development projects with," he adds.
To be fair, Microsoft's stance on open source has changed remarkably over the last year or so, and at least a part of the company isn't trying to make open source go the way of the dinosaur, says RedMonk's O'Grady. This change is due mainly to Sam Ramji's Platform Strategy Group, formed a little over a year ago. Part of the duty of the group, which Ramji leads, is to reverse the message of Microsoft's previous and infamous "Get the Facts" campaign, which aggressively tried to show customers the value proposition of deploying a Windows environment instead of Linux.
The group also is trying to prove that Microsoft is reversing its "us versus them" attitude about open source and convince customers that the two technologies are not mutually exclusive and in fact can even be complementary at times. "Both Microsoft software and open source software exist within a larger industry context with numerous development approaches, licensing models, mixed IT environments, and the realities of a new economy," Ramji says. "We need to continue to ground ourselves in that context and acknowledge that open source software development is here to stay -- including at Microsoft and among many people who develop with and use Microsoft technologies every day."
Ramji and his cohorts do indeed seem sincere about their efforts to support open source. In a first for the company, Microsoft actually has open source code in a product it acquired as part of its purchase of Powerset last July. The HBase component of Powerset's product has open source code that Microsoft is actively redistributing back into the Apache Software Foundation's Hadoop project.
In addition to the Powerset code, Microsoft also for the first time in 2008 began contributing other code to open source projects. In July, Microsoft began providing code to a PHP project called ADOdb. PHP is an open source, freely available scripting language that developers widely use for Web development. Microsoft also has become a sponsor of Apache, which required the company to provide funding for the foundation.