Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Microsoft: 'Open source is a source of innovation'

Microsoft appreciates open source as a source of innovation, and will expand its involvement with the open source community, Robert Duffner, senior director of platform strategy at Microsoft, said over coffee Monday morning.

During our discussion, he also opined that open source is not Linux, nor should Linux be the poster child of open source. You may want to sit down before you read on.

All sources of innovation are significant to Microsoft - regardless of the methodology that was used, Duffner said. No less than chief software architect Ray Ozzie appreciates open source and envisioned a broader role for it at Microsoft when he hired Sam Ramji (directory of Microsoft's open source software lab), he noted.

update: Microsoft informs me that Duffner misspoke about Ozzie's role in Ramji's hiring. I am told that Ray Ozzie didn’t actually hire Sam (it was Bill Hilf that hired Sam to run the open source lab, but Sam was actually already at Microsoft before that.)

Indeed, Ozzie has served as an internal proponent. It was Ozzie who insisted that Windows Azure, Microsoft's development platform for the cloud, be open to Eclipse tooling and PHP programmers, Duffner said. But the company is admittedly more pragmatic than altruistic.

Microsoft has a market driven approach Duffner said. Duffner, an IBM alumnus, explained that the company's involvement in open source projects is driven by product groups, and is in that regard no different from IBM. However, he conceded that there has been more altruism out of IBM to date.

IBM's early involvement with the Apache Geronimo project was done out of self interest to help it flesh out its Java EE 5 strategy, he said. "Customers demanded [Java EE 5]," and IBM needed another year to complete an update to WebSphere, he claimed. Similarly, customers in the financial industry prompted Microsoft join the AMQP project, he said.

When asked what projects Microsoft is contributing to, he rattled off a list including Apache HBase, Apache, Apache Qpid, AMQP, and PHP. However, Microsoft has not yet contributed code to AMQP, and Microsoft's involvement in HBase happened through an acquisition. Regardless, the fact that its work with HBase has persisted is a, "big deal," he said. Microsoft also funds the Apache Foundation.

Microsoft's PHP work has a lot to do with SQL Server. The company is working to create a database abstraction layer for PHP so that developers will not be beholden to Sun's MySQL, he said. Not surprisingly, Duffner noted that Microsoft is intent on tying PHP to SQL Server to offer developers, "more choices for development and deployment."

The open source technology center team at Microsoft has around 15 dedicated employees, not including contractors or product teams that engage in interoperability work. The team holds internal events to promote the use of open source at Microsoft, and is acting as, "change agents within Microsoft," according to Duffner.

While it is not working with every group at Microsoft yet, the team does work closely with Microsoft Research and the CodePlex open source project hosting team, he said. In our discussion, he expressed a strong desire to collaborate with the SharePoint product team. The takeaway was that the scope of open source is not limited to operating systems.

As a matter of fact, the company would very badly like to shake the perception that open source is commercial Linux versus Windows. "[Linux] never had head to head competition against Windows anyway," he said. "It's UNIX VS Linux and Windows." However, he acknowledged that Linux will become more of a competitor if UNIX market share continue to slip.

While I do share his belief that there is much more to open source than Linux, accepting that Microsoft is not concerned about Linux requires the willful suspension of disbelief. One of the open source team's most recent releases is the new Web installer for Microsoft's Web services stack - Microsoft's answer to the LAMP stack.

In case you were wondering, the 'L' in LAMP stands for Linux. And Microsoft recognizes why LAMP is attractive to Web developers. LAMP has an attractive, pluggable architecture, Duffner said.

1 comment:

Chrisranjana said...

It is really good that microsoft embraces open source as a friend and not as an adversary. Right from their start with activeperl and now recently.

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