Microsoft seems to be making genuine attempts to overcome its initial hostility to open source, if its recent moves are anything to go by.
The company has some way to go, it has a long history of hostility to open source. It was treated with derision after Steve Ballmer’s notorious 2004 memo that tore into open source - the one where he famously said “It's pretty clear the facts show Windows provides a lower total cost of ownership than Linux and the number of security vulnerabilities is lower on Windows,” claims that were widely derided at the time - and not just in the open source community.And when he followed that up with a memo accusing open source developers of theft, and the battle lines had been drawn.
Oh well, joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, and Microsoft has certainly being making efforts to show its devotion to open source since then. First of all, there was the establishment of the CodePlex Foundation in September last year but there generally seems to be an effort to be taken more seriously.
This week, it released Linux integration for Hyper-V, another step down the path, a move that has generally been welcomed in the open source community, Whether it's true to say, as the Register dramatically put it, that Microsoft clutches open source to its beating heart, there's certainly been some sort of change in mindset at Redmond.
There is a feeling though, that whatever Microsoft does, it’s going to be constantly playing catch-up with the rest of the world. The company’s a bit like the Wales rugby team at the moment - giving the opposition a massive head start and then belatedly remembering it’s in a competition. Open source is penetrating faster into the mainstream than was ever thought possible a few years ago, both private sector and public sector (apart from the UK, of course) are turning to the technology. I've blogged elsewhere about Alfresco's performance but that's just one example of how open source is being adopted.
So, Microsoft is not as much clutching open source to its beating heart, it is, to change the metaphor, a shipwrecked sailor holding on frantically to his treasure and to some drfitwood... He's keeping afloat and is being pulled to shore by the current but has little control of how he's going to get there as he's propelled by forces beyond his control. But he knows that he'll land somehow in one piece and hopes to keep his booty too.
Of course, he's not blindly accepting of his fate and keeps striking out in the direction that he wants to go. Just as Microsoft is still intensely lobbying hard to keep the status quo. Earlier this week, Glyn Moody reported how the company was stepping up its lobbying efforts to ensure that open source software was excluded from the EU digital policy - even though open source has been at the heart of the EU's digital framework for some time.
Microsoft's resistance to open source and open standards is deeply entrenched. Alex Brown's excellent blog on the state of OOXML and its adherence to standards is a timely reminder of that. He quotes Tim Bray's excellent description of what the end result of Microsoft's 'commitment' to the standards process would be. "I suppose they’ll probably show up to the meetings and try to act interested, but it’s going to be a sideline and nobody important will be there. What Microsoft really wanted was that ISO stamp of approval to use as a marketing tool. And just like your mother told you, when they get what they want and have their way with you, they’re probably not gonna call you in the morning."
And that's what happened - although to be fair to Microsoft, its not the only large company that pays lip service to standards committees and uses them to support their own technologies,
Brown does point out that there are some excellent people at Microsoft, some with a genuine commitment to open standards. And that's the point:for all the excellent advances being made by some of its technical people and for all the genuine commitment from these people to open source, to open standards and to a commitment to better co-operation. at the beating heart of Microsoft lies a fierce commitment to protecting its user base, its revenues, its cash cows and its whole corporate culture.
Follow Maxwell on Twitter on @maxcooter
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