Gates: Open source, interoperability not synonymous

Microsoft chairman and chief software architect, Bill Gates, has sent an email to customers emphasising the company's commitment to being interoperable and stressing that open source and interoperability are not necessarily one and the same.

Saying the industry has attempted many efforts at heterogeneity, Gates cited "a strong commitment to interoperability" as the solution.

"That means letting different kinds of applications and systems do what they do best, while agreeing on a common 'contract' for how disparate systems can communicate to exchange data with one another," Gates wrote in the message accessible at http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/execmail/ and entitled, Building Software That Is Interoperable By Design.

Interoperability was sometimes confused with open source software, Gates said.

"Open source is a methodology for licensing and/or developing software - that may or may not be interoperable," he said. "Additionally, the open source development approach encourages the creation of many permutations of the same type of software application, which could add implementation and testing overhead to interoperability efforts."

Microsoft has been seen in some circles as the opposite of open source - largely maintaining its code in a proprietary, commercial format controlled by a single vendor. A Microsoft official last year even publicly questioned the open source movement and its potentially negative affects on the software industry.

Gates in his letter also said, "Today I want to focus on two major thrusts of Microsoft's product interoperability strategy: First, we continue to support customers' needs for software that works well with what they have today. Second, we are working with the industry to define a new generation of software and Web services based on eXtensible Markup Language [XML], which enables software to efficiently share information and opens the door to a greater degree of 'interoperability by design' across many different kinds of software."

Continuing on his interoperability soapbox, Gates stressed Microsoft "offers a comprehensive portfolio of interoperability software capabilities, from the operating system to individual applications".

He cited a list of systems that Microsoft software will communicate with, including mainframes, minicomputers, and "various Unixes, including Linux."

Gates' email was described by a Microsoft representative as the latest in a series of periodic communications from Microsoft's top executives about important issues. Previous emails have covered topics such as security, anti-spam, and manageability.

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Paul Krill

IDG News Service

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