Over the years, Microsoft has had some pretty harsh words (and actions) for the open-source community in general and for Linux in particular. And with news this week that the company reportedly wants open-source software users to pay royalties on 235 alleged patent violations, the relationship is obviously changing. We take a look at five ways Microsoft is embracing open source or Linux and five ways it is doing to battle against those same forces.
Microsoft loves open source
1. Silverlight runtime and scripting language opened up from the start
Last week at its Mix07 conference (which mimics a ‘conversational’ style familiar at open-source confabs), Microsoft said its new IronRuby dynamic language and the Dynamic Language Runtime (DLR) will be offered under Microsoft's BSD-style Permissive License, which lets users modify and distribute the code. The intent is to add cross-platform support for dynamic language programming in .Net (DLR works in conjunction with .Net's CLR) and to encourage developers to implement other language on top of the DLR. Last year, Microsoft made its IronPython available under the Permissive License.
2. Deals with open-source vendors
Integration-style deals with SugarCRM and JBOSS show that Microsoft understands non-Windows components must be able to attach reliably to Windows server software. The company works with vendors to make that happen. Also "co-opetition" agreements with the likes of XenSource and MySQL, an open-source database, show that Microsoft understands the pressure is coming from all sides. A similar deal with Novell on Linux had its good points, but one aspect landed it on the Top Five Battles list.
3. Port 25
In August 2006, Microsoft launched Port 25, a website that provides a look inside Microsoft's Open Source Lab, which is under the direction of Bill Hilf, who once helped lead Linux strategy development for IBM. The blog-style site digs under the research lab's testing, analysis and interoperability work.
Codeplex, the year-old open-source project-hosting website started by Microsoft, lets users share open-source development projects. The big news is that portions of Visual FoxPro will be posted as open source on Codeplex. A new version of the website is released every three weeks adding additional features and updates. As of early March, there were 1,029 projects on the site.
Led by Kim Cameron, Microsoft's identity architect, Microsoft has fostered a community discussion with identity that has involved open-source movers and shakers such as Doc Searls, independent developers and those with a fascination for the technology. In September 2006, Microsoft announced its Open Specification Promise, which gives developers access, without need for licences or fear of legal action, to 35 web services protocols Microsoft has developed, including many Microsoft uses in its own identity technology.
See next page to find out why Microsoft hates open source
Microsoft hates open source
1. Open Document Format (ODF)
Microsoft likes to make money and its file formats have kept users anteing up for new Office versions for years. With governments far and wide evaluating or adopting open file formats, Microsoft came up with OpenXML (the default format in Office 2007) and is pushing it to the same standards bodies that christened ODF. There are debates over the merits of each, but it's likely to get uglier before it gets better.
2. $3 software bundle in foreign countries
See above. With Linux and open source representing a major threat in emerging markets (those not already saturated with Windows), Microsoft is playing defence with a $3 bundle that includes Windows XP Starter Edition, Office Home and Student 2007, Windows Live Mail and other applications.
Chairman Bill Gates said Microsoft will work with local governments to get students low-cost PCs that include the software.
3. Novell patent deal
While some of last year's Novell deal around joint sales and R&D efforts drew praise, the part dealing with protecting customers from patent lawsuits and intellectual property infringement, the Covenant to Customers, ruffled major feathers in the Linux and open-source community for its many loopholes and missing details and led to accusations that Novell was bamboozled again by Microsoft.
4. Attack on the GNU General Public License (GPL) 3.0
Microsoft has been a longtime contributor to the lobbying organisation Association for Competitive Technology, which critics charge is a Microsoft puppet organisation, for spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about the forthcoming upgrade to the GPL. And just to connect dots, Richard Stallman, the leader of the Free Software Foundation says GPL 3.0, which is nearing final draft, will be crafted to block the type of patent/IP deal Novell and Microsoft cut.
5. Digital Rights Management (DRM)
Microsoft's digital rights management is incompatible with Linux and open-source tools, where users could use the source code of document or multi-media software to work around DRM controls. Microsoft has locked down its DRM capabilities, thereby locking non-Microsoft approved clients out of the DRM loop. Purists say content control should be in the hands of content providers not imposed by Microsoft and out of reach of users with open-source software.