Microsoft and Open Source

by Miguel de Icaza

These are good news, as reported on the O'Reilly Radar by Tim:

In his keynote at OSCON, Microsoft General Manager of Platform Strategy Bill Hilf announced that Microsoft is submitting its shared source licenses to the Open Source Initiative. This is a huge, long-awaited move. It will be earthshaking for both Microsoft and for the open source community if the licenses are in fact certified as open source licenses. Microsoft has been releasing a lot of software as shared source (nearly 650 projects, according to Bill). If this is suddenly certified as true open source software, it will be a lot harder to draw a bright line between Microsoft and the open source community.

Bill also announced that Microsoft has created a new top level link at, to bring together in one place all Microsoft's open source efforts. Bill sees this as the culmination of a long process of making open source a legitimate part of Microsoft's strategy. Open source has survived Microsoft's process of "software darwinism" and is becoming an ever more important part of its thinking.

Bill understands open source.

As I said last year on Microsoft's Port25, in my opinion, part of the reaction that Microsoft had towards Linux and open source had its roots in the way it was portrayed as a Microsoft killer. Anything that is portrayed as a killer of something will be less than welcome. Or like they say out there, you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.

Open sourcing software is a great step for Microsoft. I hope that they continue on this path of openness, and I hope that they will have a good experience with external collaborations with the software projects that they are opening up to external contributors.

In the last year Microsoft moved away from merely opening up source code under open source terms to actually creating communities that would co-develop components with them. This is the case with their AjaxToolkit for ASP.NET AJAX (Mono-plug: soon in a Linux server near you).

With IronRuby and its class libraries they will be taking new steps again. These will be the the first projects in which the software is not only open source, but where they will taking contributions back into it.

Update: In the comments to the piece, Tim has some interesting things to say, and I agree with them:

Ultimately, I believe this is significant because I believe that Microsoft realizes that they are on the losing side of history. Year by year, they have come closer to recognizing that the old models are dead, and that new ones need to be explored.

This doesn't mean that all their software will be open source. But I don't see people abusing Chris DiBona about Google's open source program because all of Google's software isn't open source either. And IBM gets lots of love for eclipse and other open source moves without being castigated for all the things they (still) do on the other side of the ledger.

You guys seem like the Shiites and Sunni in Iraq. No, the other side isn't to be trusted. But the consequence of not trusting, and escalating hostilities, is far worse than exploring what trust is offered, and building on it.

If you care about Microsoft becoming more free and open, support the people at Microsoft who are trying to bring them along.

This other piece is right on track:

Demonizing the other side (in business or in war) is an easy way of actually ignoring the actual facts, after all its easy to say that the devil is bad:

Dalibor -- my reference to "you guys" was specifically to all the people saying Microsoft is innately bad. All I can say is that if you believe that, you've never spent much time with folks at Microsoft. It's easy to demonize someone you don't know. Harder when you actually talk with them. There are some people there (including the top leadership) that I don't trust, but there are a lot of people trying to make positive change. Help them, don't hate them.

As to the "losing side of history", my thinking is shaped profoundly by my study of the history of the IBM PC, which broke IBM's old stranglehold on the industry via proprietary hardware. That change didn't make IBM go away, but they had to change to survive, and now everyone thinks they are a good guy.

I predict a very similar outcome for Microsoft. Free and open source software have changed the world, but not in the way we expected. It doesn't mean that "free" triumphs, just that the locus of proprietary value capture and protection changes from software to something else, just as it previously changed from hardware to software.

I've written about these ideas at length in The Open Source Paradigm Shift and What is Web 2.0, and events since I wrote those pieces have only confirmed my view.

I completely agree that Microsoft is participating where they find it useful ... but so is IBM, and Sun, and Google, and Oracle, and even Red Hat, Canonical, MySQL and other "open source" companies. It's never just black and white.

I could not agree more.

Posted on 27 Jul 2007