Redmond opening up to open source

by Matt Asay

Redmond Magazine has a great article on Microsoft's changing perspective on open source, featuring Bill HIlf as one of the key drivers of this change. I know and respect Bill, and agree heartily with the article's conclusions:
When Bill Hilf came from IBM Corp. to join Microsoft three years ago, the company's stance on open source vacillated wildly. It would swing from outright indifference to overt nastiness. Today, something else is unfolding: Microsoft is striking a surprising balance. It has stopped dismissing open source licensing and community development as dangerous folly or evil foe, and is looking for a way to both compete and co-exist.

Let's start with Hilf. Under his direction as general manager of platform strategy, Microsoft is crafting a multifaceted plan to approach open source from a number of different levels: Linux as an operating system competitor; interoperability with Linux in mixed environments; partnering with open source ISVs; development of Shared Source Licensing; contributions to and support for community development sites....

Perhaps the biggest challenge that Hilf faces is changing the internal tone at Microsoft. One of the things he's worked on is convincing developers that they need to play a role in the open source process and take part in projects on CodePlex to join the so-called community. The engineers caught on right away, he said, while the sales and marketing organizations were tougher to persuade.
Yesterday I heard one of the most prominent open source figures in the industry suggest that maybe, just maybe, Microsoft is changing its tune vis-a-vis open source. It has a long way to go, but the work that Bill, Sam Ramji, Jason Matusow, and others have done is truly changing the way Microsoft thinks about its ecosystem.

The big question, however, is how Microsoft views itself: platform company or applications company. To the extent it is the former, it has a big tent to share with the open source world. To the extent that it is the latter, it will try to quash any part of its ecosystem that aggressively competes with it.

But that's not any different from how it deals with closed-source companies. So maybe it will beat up on open source just as much as it does closed source. Nice.

3 Comments

Jeremy
2007-03-13 14:50:52
I just have one question about their open source relations. How does the Novell cross-patent license and threats of IP legal action fit in with his internal and external PR stuff? I'm not saying that he doesn't genuinely do a lot of good work. I'm just saying that as a company, they're still a bit confused if he's doing one thing, and Steve Ballmer and others at a higher level are doing absolutely completely the opposite.
chromatic
2007-03-13 15:58:32
I agree with Jeremy. Bill Hilf may be doing amazing, wonderful work, but Steve Ballmer gets a lot more press. It'll be easier for me to believe that Microsoft has changed its stance on F/OSS when Ballmer's words change.
Dalibor Topic
2007-03-19 05:08:15
Sure, Microsoft could change, if they fired almost all of their current employees, and replaced them with people with courage, convictions and capabilities to pull off such a change of culture.


As if that would ever happen.