For quite some time OSS Watch have been trying to put together an article examining Microsofts approach to open source. Today we welcomed the new year with the publication of “Microsoft: an end to open hostilities?“
This has been a very hard piece to write. We felt we needed to talk to as many people as possible, we needed to sift through significant amounts of Fear Uncertainty and Doubt along with unnecessarily emotional responses.
Things weren’t made any easier by the fact that every time we felt ready to publish something else heppened that seemed to change the story somewhat and we had to return to our sources for more observations.
During our research for this article OSS Watch have been accused, by an OSI board observer and ASF Member, of being “surrogates” for Microsoft, whilst Tony Hey (Corporate Vice President of External Research, Microsoft) privately expressed concern that OSS Watch was “encouraging academics to use the GPL.” Simultaneously, various free software representatives have pointed out how “naive” they believed us to be by even considering the idea that Microsoft may have genuine intentions with respect to engaging with the free and open source community.
As a non-advocacy advisory service we tend to think that if all sides in a debate believe we are in the wrong, yet all are still talking to us, we are probably doing something right. Certainly none of them can claim us as their own.
Given all this input what did we conclude?
Well, as you would expect, the conclusion is far from clear. On the one side we have the Stallman’s (Free Software Foundation) view that “these free programs are meant specifically to prevent the world from freeing itself from non-free software”. On the other side we have Erenkrantz’s (The Apache Software Foundation) view that “every positive and constructive engagement Microsoft has with the open source community (and vice versa) … will continue to chip away at the old perceptions”.
Furthermore, whilst Microsoft may be making concessions to open source and are happy to play with open source when it suits their needs they are also willing to use other methods where it best suits their business. For example, on patents Darren Strange (Head of Open Source Engagement, Microsoft UK) says “Patents drive innovation and they drive openness actually.”
Our own conclusion is that “Microsoft is not simply an unchanging monolith.” The article demonstrates that things within Microsoft are changing. Naturally they are changing in ways that benefit Microsoft as a business, but the good news is that some of these changes also benefit the world of free and open source software.
Over the years I have often quoted Ghandi when looking at Microsoft and their relationship with Free and Open Source Software: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win”. FOSS has not “won” yet, but the frontline is moving and it is open source software that is winning.