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Microsoft and Open Source: A Lethal Combination

August 1, 2007

Microsoft Open Source LinuxBill Hilf, Microsoft General Manager of Platform Strategy, announced last week at O’Reilly Open Source Convention that Microsoft is submitting its shared source licenses to the OSI (Open Source Initiative) to be certified as open source licenses. He also announced that Microsoft has created a new web site that – according to Hilf’s post – “clearly outlines Microsoft’s position on OSS [open-source software] by providing specific information about Microsoft, the OSS community and the interaction between the two“.

Tim O’Reilly, the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, Inc., described this move by Microsoft as “a huge, long-awaited move” and that “it will be earthshaking for both Microsoft and for the open source community if the licenses are in fact certified as open source licenses“. Many angry readers responded to O’Reilly’s post. One reader described the move as “a well designed propaganda campaign to build the ‘shared source’ brand and paint MS as an ‘open source’ company“. Another reader was concerned that this “approach could further divide an already-fragile and already-divided community“.

O’Reilly responded back by saying that “year by year, they [Microsoft] have come closer to recognizing that the old models are dead, and that new ones need to be explored” and that “they are using it [open source] strategically where it helps them, and fighting it where it hurts them. But so is every other proprietary software company“. He also said that “if you care about Microsoft becoming more free and open, support the people at Microsoft who are trying to bring them along“.

Joe Wilcox said that the new site “appears more about public relations and spreading FUD (fear uncertainty and doubt) than “clearly” outlining Microsoft’s open-source position“. He listed some ambiguities and inconsistencies that he found with the Web site and Microsoft executive statements.

So, what is really happening? Is Microsoft trying to pull off a dirty trick behind the scenes? Or do they really want to become good friends with the open source society?

Lethal combination” has two meanings: If this move is part of an “evil” plan, this could be lethal to the OSS (although it won’t totally kill it). On the other hand, if Microsoft was really honest about it this time, the open source society can win a strong ally to its side.

Now I’m neither a Microsoft hater (I enjoy using Vista from time to time) nor a Microsoft lover (I hate it when my favorite anti-virus program is not compatible with Vista). Also, I’m neither an open source lover (I hate it when I can’t get my wireless USB adapter to work in Linux) nor an open source hater (I admire the open source culture and philosophy). I know that there is nothing perfect in this world. So, here what I have to say:

To the open source society: Why can’t you (or some of you) at least imagine that there are some good people deep inside Microsoft? Loosen up a little, will ya! Try to turn this “enemy” into an ally, but proceed with some caution. (Hell, this could be your chance to kill Microsoft!)

To Microsoft: Don’t expect people you have been hurting for so many years to listen to the man who said “The Free Software movement is dead. Linux doesn’t exist in 2007“. Come on! You can do better than that! If you really are honest this time, you better show it to those people.

To myself: Get ready for some angry comments! Also, try to avoid lengthy posts in the future!

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