April 7, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Is Microsoft playing well with others?

BOSTON--At last year's LinuxWorld, Microsoft executive Bill Hilf stalked the stage dressed as a "Star Wars" storm trooper. This time, he tried a friendlier tack to charm the Linux faithful.

Microsoft is launching a Web site to cultivate communication with open-source software customers, he told an audience at the trade show Thursday. It's a sign that the once standoffish software maker is willing to live alongside open source, he said.

"We can either tell customers, 'It's our way or the highway,' or we can try to meet their needs," said Hilf, who runs an open-source lab within Microsoft and is responsible for the company's shared-source initiative.

Make no mistake: Microsoft competes as fiercely as ever against open-source products and business models. But recent moves signify a subtle change in stance--an acceptance that Microsoft software can no longer stay an island, according to some industry executives.

In addition to wooing open-source customers through the Web site, called Port 25, Microsoft will support joint Windows-Linux customers. And executives claim Microsoft has stepped up its commitment to industry standards.

The moves could be seen as a sign of a more collaborative, more welcoming, Microsoft. But the software giant faces deep skepticism about its motives.

Microsoft in the open

Is the software giant softening on open source? Here are recent moves that suggest it's reaching out.

• Plans to run and support Linux in Virtual Server and future Windows Server versions.

• Working to make support for standards "more a matter of course," an exec says.

• Intends to share more source code with customers and developers.

• Next year, will deliver software for writing programs that run on rival browsers, the Mac and maybe on other OSes.

• Chairman Bill Gates speaks up for interoperability, saying Microsoft wants to "eliminate friction" between applications.

Executives at rival companies noted that Microsoft does not support open-source products and standards as a matter of course. Rather, its decisions are dictated by customer or regulator demands.

"Internally, nothing has changed. Outside, they're nice and happy and they say, 'We'll play well together.' Inside, it's war," said Jeremy Allison, the co-creator of Samba, open-source software for running Windows desktops with Linux. "The goal of engineering of work is to prevent interoperability."

As an example, Allison said that Windows Vista will have a new set of protocols to exchange information with desktop PCs, rather than relying on the protocols that already work with third-party products.

Other skeptics see Microsoft's sidling up to open source as a dig at IBM, its chief rival in business software.

Microsoft has also been criticized because it has said it will not support the OpenDocument standard in Office 12, citing lack of customer demand.

Regulators continue to pursue Microsoft as well: European Union watchdogs are still not satisfied with the company's level of openness and the ability for other companies to access Microsoft-specific protocols.

Saying the right things?
In the past, Microsoft was generally not friendly to standards and technologies that didn't favor Windows.

In the late 1990s, for example, it made changes to the Java software, which works with many operating systems, to "optimize" Java applications for Windows. That move was a contributing factor in antitrust suits.

In addition, the company has been downright hostile toward open source, notably Linux, according to analysts and industry executives.

But despite its patchy record on interoperability, Microsoft does seem to be adopting a more proactive approach to working with the non-Microsoft world, going by a number of recent moves.

On Monday, it said that it will run and support Linux in its Virtual Server product and future versions of Windows Server.

It reorganized its standards group to make support for standards "less reactive?and more a matter of course," Tom Robertson, the newly appointed general manager of standards at Microsoft, has said.

Bill Hilf
Bill Hilf,
platform strategy GM,
Microsoft

After hiring people like Hilf and Jim Hugunin, who have experience with open-source products and practices, Microsoft plans to expand use of its shared-source program to share source code with customers and developers.

Next year, the company will release software for writing applications that run on non-Microsoft browsers and the Mac, and potentially on other operating systems.

Microsoft executives said these changes are driven by market demand.

In addition, concerns over regulatory pressure to share software--coming from sources such as the U.S. Department of Justice and the European Union--are "deeply ingrained" at Microsoft, Hilf said. "It's always a top-of-mind concern for us."

CONTINUED: Getting in from outside…
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16 comments

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java is opensource?
Why is Java, the proprietary technology on Sun called open source in this article? Java is not even open standard, like microsofts C# and CLI which are submitted to ECMA.
A major factual mistake in the article?
Posted by idoppler (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
error fixed
putting "open source" in front of Java was an error and has been fixed.
Posted by mlamonica (330 comments )
Link Flag
Corrections...
Sun's Java is not open source, that is an error.
Saying that Java is not open source is also an
error as there are open-source implementations
(of varying degrees of completeness), including
one being developed by the Apache foundation
that's tentatively endorsed by Sun.

I'd also add that while C#/Db and the CLI have
been submitted to ECMA, many of the core
libraries have not and there are patent issues
related to both. So, while you may be
indemnified against a lawsuits using Microsoft's
implementation, there's nothing to say that
using a different implementation won't cause you
legal troubles later.

Not that you should stop using
non-Microsoft .Net compilers and CLIs (in many
ways, Novell's open-source Mono already performs
better), but one should be cautious.

Personally, I've recently had an opportunity to
fiddle with gcj, and I must say that I'm
somewhat impressed. I don't always want/need a
JVM, and compiling the Java code into native
binaries gives a very tangible difference in
performance. I'd like to see all of Swing ported
rather than being relegated to SWT, but it's a
great first step.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
Embrace, extend, extinguish all over again!
Right now, M$ is in the embrace stage. This is war and the first rule of war is to "know your enemy". Be on guard!
Posted by ray08 (64 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Agreed
MSFT, like all other publicly traded companies including their competitors, are not in the "feel good", "let's be friends" business. They are in the business of growing market share and revenue for their shareholders. They are not the leaders in the server space, and playing well with competitors is not part of their corporate strategy anymore than IBM wants to "play well" with Oracle, Sun or MSFT. Their goal is embrace and extend competitors in ways that provides value and differentiation for their customers and shareholders ... and yes ultimately defeat the competition. Embrace, extend, extinguish has proven successful for them over the years. It would seem to make sense with open source as well.
Posted by James_U (80 comments )
Link Flag
Uh Oh
Sounds like they're just promoting M$MQ (the worst of the 4-letter words).
Posted by (409 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is predicatable...
Linux plays REALLY well in heterogeneous
environments and is much more flexible than MS
products (at the expense of requiring knowledge
to best leverage that flexibility). The result
is that Linux is making a lot of inroads in the
server space -- which is exposing a lot of
shortcomings in Windows and the general
Microsoft tendency to not follow standards, not
focus on interoperation, and not describe how
their products work.

Not that Microsoft products look shoddy, they
simply give the impression that they weren't
designed for contemporary infrastructure so much
as they were for the desktop. And this is
correct.

The only way for MS to make any headway is to
"play well with others". They'll need to do that
until they have sufficient leverage putting them
in a position to screw their customers without
losing them (that's when the big money comes
in).

They'll never be able to embrace-and-extend
Linux out of existence. Even funding SCO's
lawsuits didn't buy them the momentum they need
against Linux. It just can't be killed without
eroding the base of advocates, users, and
developers -- and that's not likely to happen
while general-purpose microprocessors are widely
available and programming is still legal.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here we go again
Don't you hate it when in commericials and elsewhere you get a big fat blubberly company telling you that "We are your buddies, We are your friends" and they just keep sticking it to you right where it hurts. I will tell you Microsoft you want to be our buddy? Start by lowering the price on all your software and don't give us "Mickey Moused" handicapped versions of anything. None of that software for them and software for us mentality. I do buy a lot of microsoft operating systems from stores like Staples only to find that it will not activate and the I have to talk to a person in India who speaks bad english and could not care less about me????????? I am sorry Microsoft I do like you but..............give me Linux!!! I can only hope many business will join the Linux crowd for I know then that the world will follow.
Posted by Ted Miller (305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MS Shark Circles The Linux Penquin...
"Keep your friends close & your enemies closer..." The Godfather.

Citizen Gates & Big Brother Baldy are circling the Penquin while acting as a "friend" to keep the customers from jumping ship & make the "appearance" of being a good neighbor for the US DOJ & EU Judges anti-trust monopoly cases...

" See, we can play nice nice with others, don't fine us millions of dollars..." DOJ is watching & EU is pending million dollar penalties very shortly.

AstalaVista has tanked AGAIN on it's features & delivery date, so snuggle up to Linux Penquin just before the Linux event to keep the MS Drones from switching to Unix / Linux / Mac OSX Unix.

micro-soft needs viagra & Darth Gates will do anything to maintain his Microsith Empire.

Once a MShark, always a MShark.

Seattlites have seen "Jaws" in action, be prepared & be afraid my friends...
Posted by Llib Setag (951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
...Changed its stripes?
Dude, if you're going to open your article with a cliche, you should probably get it right.

The phrase you're looking for is "changed its SPOTS". As in, "You can't change a leopard's spots." Leopards don't have stripes.

Leopard, conveniently, is also the name of Apple's next OS.

The current OS is called Tiger.

Tigers have stripes. Leopards don't.
Posted by Thad Boyd (1362 comments )
Reply Link Flag
anti competition
All this is is anti competition. So typical.
Posted by davidman2010 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My friend Bill
Yep, this is classic M$ behavior when they encounter a technology they can't buy, steal or replicate.

Whenever I hear that M$ wants to be my friend, I immediately check my wallet and then look over my shoulder for the knife I know must be sticking out of my back.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here it comes..
I think with Apple's iMac dual-booting XP, they thought it'd be a good idea to look like they're being more open too. Don't get me wrong, I'm a Microsoft supporter, but this just looks like history repeating itself. Have people run Microsoft-sanctioned Linux servers, and then slowly get them to make the jump to Windows, by cutting support for the product.

Or they may just be doing it for PR..who's to know now-a-days...but...people are watching, Microsoft.
Posted by Sil3nt71 (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Microsoft has changed.
They have decided overnight to be a nice company.

Yeah Right!
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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