July 11, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Microsoft learns to live with open source

Two years ago, software engineer Shaun Walker got an e-mail from a Microsoft product manager, suggesting ways to keep Walker's development project from foundering.

That led to a meeting at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters, where the software giant decided to provide Walker with a business mentor and Internet hosting. But Walker had one important stipulation: He insisted that his Web content management system, built atop Microsoft's Windows and .Net software, be free and open source.

Surprisingly, Microsoft--once the sworn enemy of open source--went along. "They've been supportive in many ways," said Walker. "To be competitive, they have to adapt to the changing landscape."


What's new:
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer once decried Linux and open source as a "cancer." But the company has gradually softened its stance, showing more willingness of late to adopt open-source development techniques and interoperate with open-source products.

Bottom line:
Microsoft's shift in attitude toward open-source is pragmatic. The company has learned to better compete against open-source products, but overall it remains opposed to the economic model.

More stories on this topic

Microsoft's commitment to Walker's product, now called DotNetNuke, underscores an ongoing shift in Microsoft's stance toward open source.

Chief Executive Steve Ballmer once famously called Linux and the open-source philosophy a "cancer." Now it's a fact of life in the software business.

In the past few months, the company has committed to working with open-source products--to a point--and shown a willingness to adopt aspects of the open-source development model, according to Microsoft managers and partners.

For example, Microsoft customers can oversee Linux servers with Microsoft's management software, and they will eventually be able to run Linux and Windows on the same machine--a startling change from previous policies. Over the past year, Microsoft has also released a number of development tools with their source code--a practice the company said it intends to continue and expand.

To be sure, the moves are more self-serving than philosophical. By accommodating open source, Microsoft endears itself to potential corporate customers, notably software developers, and it better understands its open-source competitors.

Ballmer has even changed the rhetoric: "We compete with products. We don't compete with movements," he said in a recent interview.

Getting a handle on open source
Many industry pundits contend that open source poses the biggest competitive threat Microsoft has ever encountered. The model of making software freely available and allowing changes to the source code hasn't yet radically altered some products, such as Microsoft's powerful desktop software franchise.

"They've been supportive in many ways. To be competitive, they have to adapt to the changing landscape."
--Shaun Walker,
software engineer
But the impact of open source on the software infrastructure arena, including server and programming software, has been dramatic. Linux server revenue is growing faster than Windows, according to research firm IDC, while the server middleware and tools market is following the path set by Linux adoption.

Microsoft responded to Linux specifically with its "Get the Facts" campaign in 2003, which looks to quantify the overall cost, or total cost of ownership, of freely available Linux software versus Windows Server.

In its product development, Microsoft has segmented the areas where Linux, as well as other products, such as the Apache Web server, are strong and has sought to match those offerings' features head-on.

These more measured competitive tactics stand in contrast to the reaction Microsoft executives displayed a few years ago as Linux's popularity grew.

In 2001, chairman Bill Gates, for example, cautioned against the "Pac-Man-like nature" of the general public license (GPL), which is used with Linux and many other freely available open-source products.

Since then, however, the open-source industry has matured and become more commercial, which has helped crystallize who Microsoft's competitors are. Instead of combating the Linux and open-software "movement," Microsoft can now target established companies, such as Red Hat, Novell or MySQL.

"We've moved from being more emotional and more reactive," said

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If you can't beat'em join'em
Or at least pretend to join them then eat them from the inside like some parasitic organism. I think Microsoft will try every trick in (and not in) the book to defeat the GPL.
Posted by (92 comments )
Reply Link Flag
can't be done
the GPL will never go away. why? because nobody produces the goods for profit. all that happens is that people want to MS go down, so they produce superior products. all that will happen is that MS will lose popularity for attacking FOSS.
Posted by Scott W (419 comments )
Link Flag
Get the Facts, Get the FUD, or simply Get Distracted?
I wrote a reply to this on my own BLOG: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.digital-copyright.ca/node/view/977" target="_newWindow">http://www.digital-copyright.ca/node/view/977</a>

"Software Manufacturing" vendors such as Microsoft and IBM are making moves which on the surface look like they accommodating, but I believe this is a distraction away from the harmful political activism they are engaged in around technology policy.

While Balmer was quoted as saying "We compete with products. We don't compete with movements", the "software manufacturing" movement has changed its anti-competitive techniques away from technical work to the political and legal activism. Rather than trying to offer the best software at the best price, they are actively lobbing to change Patent and Copyright laws to favor (or mandate) "software manufacturing".
Posted by Russell McOrmond (63 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Shared Source?
How can anyone equate MS lame shared source with open source?

Shared Source is neither shared, nor open.

MS is steadily losing out to OS because they still don't get it. People are tired of overpaying for software that is buggy, unsecure and bloated.

They are reacting to what open source does, not trying to compete and that is where they are screwing up. Their web browser is a perfect example. Firefox has taken a noticable chunk of market share, and how does MS compete? Putting in a lame tabbed feature for IE6, when tabs are not the main reason for its popularity. It is its security. MS is finally getting with solid programming practices and making IE7 a standalone app, but who knows if it can match the security of other browsers. The history of Microsoft says it can't, but time will tell and will be a strong indicator if they have learned anything and are going to legitimately compete or merely react.
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Which would be better?
A. Microsoft to get the open source religion.

B. The Screaming Penquins to lose the "Hate Microsoft" religion.
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Reply Link Flag
1. Open source is not a religion, that is such a retarded characterization.

2. At least people who dislike Microsoft has legitimate, tangible reasons for it.
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
Link Flag
Just for security?
The reason I use Firefox and have since version 0.6 was not because of security but because of the tabs and the extensions like web developer etc. In fact, this is the reason that most people I know did it. The added security is a bonus, but if you think that is what motivates the general Internet population you must be illusional. Sites have already figured out how to get around Firefox's popup blocker and adware exploits will come too. I have worked with the web developer toolbar creator and love Firefox, and will continue using it unless something better comes out. And I don't rule out the fact that Microsoft could do it. With Netscape 5 and 6, Internet Explorer was much better in my opinion, and they COULD do it again over Firefox. I will just wait and see.
Posted by tsm26 (81 comments )
Reply Link Flag
illusional should be delusional
Posted by tsm26 (81 comments )
Link Flag
That shows the problem with most computer users. They care about bells and whistles first, and not at all about security.

Security is not "a bonus", it is one of the prime requirements for a web browser. Nice GUI elements are not. Other prime requirements are how well numerous protocol and scripting languages are implemented. IE fails on the standards compliance and security tests, that it also has less GUI features is inconsequentional. It is not like tabs are some new invention, they have been around for a long time now.

Ask yourself: If Firefox had no more functionality then IE, but still has the better security, would I still use Firefox?

If the answer is no, then you are the problem. Security should be the #1 priority for everyone. The tabs and extensions of Firefox and other 3rd party browsers are very nice, but not when weighed against important factors.
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
Link Flag
Not according to Steve Balmer
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/07/10/ballmer_partners/" target="_newWindow">http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/07/10/ballmer_partners/</a>

'Nuff said.
Posted by imric1 (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"Microsoft's Ballmer tells lurvely partners to stick it to IBM"!
&gt;&gt;&gt;"Ballmer urged partners to target legacy installations of Novell's NetWare, IBM's Lotus Notes and Microsoft's NT 4.0."&gt;&gt;&gt;; also, &gt;&gt;&gt;"Microsoft's high-octane chief executive continued: "We have Lotus Notes opportunities coming out the yin-yang. I've never seen [such] a customer base waiting to be plucked."&gt;&gt;&gt;. I have read this news article from the link provided and it reads like a company in a state of panic. If one gets it correctly NT 4.0 is "IBM's OS/2" (with NETBIOS integrated -- network ready unlike previous Windows) and that is why it is apparently not easy to migrate the installed base and with IBM® Workplace Managed Client" ( <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www-306.ibm.com/software/swnews/swnews.nsf/n/nhan6dmqu7?openDocument&#38;Site=lotus" target="_newWindow">http://www-306.ibm.com/software/swnews/swnews.nsf/n/nhan6dmqu7?openDocument&#38;Site=lotus</a>) et cetera on the prowl -- this maybe is the source of Microsoft's and Ballmer's apparent panic attack, not only Lotus Notes per se! It could very well be the "vision" of the IBM's Workplace stockade: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www-306.ibm.com/software/info/workplace/solutions.jsp" target="_newWindow">http://www-306.ibm.com/software/info/workplace/solutions.jsp</a> (so much fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD)) because of an entrenched "spent competitive challenge". Let's bring the competition on!

Posted by (187 comments )
Link Flag
Newsflash: DotNetNuke is based on MS framework
The case presented here has nothing to do with Microsoft learning to live with open source. According to the site, "DotNetNuke is built on a Microsoft ASP.NET (VB.NET) platform". First off, calling this product "open source" is a bit of a stretch since the entire framework it is built on is proprietary. Sure, the source code for the product itself may be open source, but the framework that it runs on is completely proprietary. DotNetNuke is intrinsically tied to Microsoft. Microsoft is supportive of this "open source" product purely because it promotes their own products and is not a threat to them. So claiming that this is evidence that Microsoft is learning to live with open source simply is not true. If DotNetNuke were (name-your-favorite-open-source-development-tool)-based, how much support do you really think they would have provided?
Posted by dilireus (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's still open source
Well it may be tied to a Microsoft server, but it doesn't change the fact that it is still open source. Open source doesn't mean everything that is required to run a open source program be open source itself.

I think however that Microsoft isn't warming up to open source or anything like that. Here is a program/platform that benifits Microsoft. It could be a good marketing tool for Microsoft to sell servers for web or intranet use. It also gives them the ability to claim open source ties regardless of how hollow those claims might be.

Open source philosophy has been around since the first time man set foot on this earth, I think. Microsoft has been fighting it since the begining of Microsoft and before. Bill Gates simply wants to be paid for anything he or his company sells. In a lot of ways I admire his competitive nature. It's some of his tactics I don't like. He is a ruthless business man who goes for the throat every time. I have learned that people don't need to fear Microsoft or Bill Gates you just don't want to underestimate him. He is the kind of guy that will attack before and after he smells blood.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
Framework proprietary?
"but the framework that it runs on is completely proprietary."

Not sure I'd agree with this one.
Ever hear of mono?
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.mono-project.com/Main_Page" target="_newWindow">http://www.mono-project.com/Main_Page</a>

Standard ECMA-335
Common Language Infrastructure (CLI)
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ecma-international.org/publications/standards/Ecma-335.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.ecma-international.org/publications/standards/Ecma-335.htm</a>
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Tabs are bells and whistles, they are nice, but hardly critical. For any app that uses an internet connection, security is #1. For every other app, it is still important.

Why are there so many problems with security? Viruses, worms, phishing, buffer attack exploits, ect, are caused by 2 things: inept programmers(or management forcing out software that isn't finished) and stupid end users who don't want to learn anything other then how to click on buttons and links.

GUI's are nice, but does not make learning basic computing knowlege like using the command line and configuring your computer obsolete.

Who said I base security off a browser. It is not everything you need to do but is important. But if someone is not concerned enough with security of a browser is unlikely to be concerned about firewalls, good passwords, ect. I never said the browser is the first line of defense, perhaps you should learn to comprehend.

Saying no software is secure is true, but not trying to make it perfect is unexcusable. Most people who say what you said usually know little to nothing about programming. Did you know that the #1 abused exploit is buffer overflow? Do you know how simple it is to avoid it? The #1 exploit is one that every sophomore computer science student knows how to avoid.

Most bugs and security problems are due to not paying attention and missing something elementary, but something complex and easy to miss.

Yes, anyone who defends Microsoft is an idiot, and/or somehow has a financial interest in them, directly or indirectly. Defending their shoddy programs is not a smart thing. Defending their insular attitude in regards to interoperability is not a smart thing. Defending their illegal and moral business decisions is not a smart thing. With very few exceptions, every piece MS software is the most buggy, bloated, expensive, and unsecure in its respective category. How can anyone defend that?
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
Reply Link Flag
In my opinion, buffer overflow is not the easiest exploit nor the best way to go for an attack, finding a blank password is. Read the article on the hacker getting into government computers. The credit card companies that got things stolen lately were from a physically stolen non secured laptops and some non secured web pages.

And just as an interesting side not, it is actually easier to perform buffer overflow attacks in Linux because of the way Linux organizes things in memory. That doesn't mean that there are more attacks for Linux, just that they are easier to perform.

You are right, there aren't many products that Microsoft makes that don't have a better alternative, BUT, when the Linux platform has better alternatives to things like Macromedia Fireworks, Adobe Photoshop, Power DVD, Final Cut, Excel(don't say open office), Visio etc, then I will switch, not until then.

I am all about open source, and hope more companies develop for Linux, so lets just agree on something. I may think that GIMP is a paralized brother against Photoshop, or open office's spreadsheet being crappy against Excel, but that doesn't mean I love Microsoft or Windows. I don't work for MS, and never will work for MS. In fact, my company is moving into the Open Source Development Office for small businesses at Novell. I only use the LAMP stack for web development, and I have PLOG and SugarCRM installed. Here is to many more quality open source programs and good competition all around.
Posted by tsm26 (81 comments )
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