Well the shock had barely worn off from the recent news that Microsoft is among the Linux kernel’s biggest contributors when another mind-bending announcement was made on a closely related theme.
The development this time? None other than Microsoft’s declaration last week that it was creating a wholly owned subsidiary devoted to forging closer ties with the open source community.
Is it a dream? A nightmare? Have we all been transported to some bizarre alternate universe? That’s what Linux bloggers have been trying to figure out.
‘All for Show’
“I might begin to believe that Microsoft is truly interested in helping the open source community when Microsoft makes XP open source in 2014,” wrote blogger kenshabby in the comments at PCWorld, for example.
Then again: “It’ll never happen,” countered linuxrants7xpg. “If XP were open source, invariably someone would grab it, update it, and possibly keep Microsoft from selling you Windows 8 or 9. Microsoft doesn’t want to have to compete with itself.
“Personally, I think this whole ‘open’ thing Microsoft is doing is all for show,” linuxrants7xpg added. “I’ll believe they’re serious about it when they open source something that really matters. PlayReady would be a great place to start.”
It wasn’t long before Red Hat weighed in with its own cautious approval, so Linux Girl knew it was time to learn more.
‘The Balance of Power Has Shifted’
“Microsoft has tried to ignore the open source community and it grew anyway, so they switched to bad-mouthing it and, at best, slowed it for a little while,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told Linux Girl.
Now, “they have long since passed the point where they lose revenue if they can’t interoperate,” Mack added. “The balance of power has shifted, so we have a new best friend.”
At the same time, however, “keep in mind what happens to companies that Microsoft partners with,” he warned.
‘Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts’
“Open Source is where [the] money is, so the ‘me-too’ company must land there,” agreed Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol, who also saw parallels with the Roman Empire.
Specifically, “after centuries of tossing Christians to the lions, suddenly, the emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of Rome,” Ebersol explained. “In the process, Christianity became more pro-Rome than it was before, and the criticism against slavery in the empire was lessened.”
So, in Redmond’s case, “sure they want the high-quality free work from the Open Source community,” he said. “But Microsoft doesn’t have one. Microsoft has users and pirates, but not a true community that really loves them.”
That, in fact, is a key distinguishing feature, Ebersol suggested: “In the Linux Free and Open Source community, the folks work for love; will Microsoft have the same? I doubt it. They can buy seats in many places, but they can’t buy the loyalty and love of a community.”
In short, “beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” Ebersol concluded, citing Virgil’s Aeneid.
‘Avoid the Evil They Spread’
Indeed, “the same evil men who ran M$ when it viciously attacked any competitors by illegal means still run the company,” blogger Robert Pogson pointed out. “They are not saints.”
Citing comments made by Microsoft executives in planning Netscape’s ruin and in the deliberate shortening of PC lifespans, for example, “do we want such people to have any influence in IT in the 21st century?” Pogson asked.
“I think not,” he concluded. “Ignore what M$ is doing. Shun them. Avoid being contaminated by the evil they spread.”
The Open Source Advantage
Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site, took a more measured view.
“One of the key benefits of open source is that each of the contributors gets to leverage everyone else’s contributions, and this certainly applies to inter-interoperability,” Hudson told Linux Girl.
“Imagine if Microsoft had tried to develop its own version of samba, for example,” she explained. “The Microsoft version would still have to compete with the open version, both in terms of mind share and in features.”
It would be smart for Microsoft to use the new subsidiary “as a doorway to leverage open-source hypervisors such as Xen to better compete with VMware,” Hudson opined — “after all, Microsoft’s Hyper-V sure isn’t cutting the mustard.
“Or maybe a better Access-to-PostgreSQL bridge and Visual Studio integration to encourage those ‘developers developers developers’ to use Microsoft design tools?” she suggested.
‘It’s a Waste of Time’
Slashdot blogger hairyfeet didn’t know why Microsoft would bother, however.
“It’s stupid, it’s pointless and it’s a waste of time, because frankly there is no longer a point in even speaking with the FOSS community, because the religious freaks have taken over,” hairyfeet opined.
“Microsoft would be better off doing like Apple and simply ignoring FOSS, or like Google and simply taking whatever they want, but trying to sit down and talk would mean coming up with compromises which is one thing that those that treat FOSS as a religion will NEVER allow,” hairyfeet explained.
“To them, it’s not software — it’s a battle of good vs. evil, and they are all Ben Kenobi, although I think they whine like Episode II Anakin Skywalker myself,” he concluded.
‘A Very Good Sign’
Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, was more upbeat.
“This is a good thing,” he told Linux Girl. “It shows that Microsoft is continuing to evolve their strategy in addressing interoperability between their software and open source.”
In addition, “I would note that while Microsoft would not do so when they had the option not to, this shows that one must try to play well with open source to survive,” Travers pointed out. “It is what their customers are demanding. It is a very good sign.”