Mozilla cautiously accepts Microsoft handshake

Microsoft and Mozilla will work together to make Mozilla's open source browser and email tools work well with Windows Vista, if a series of public communiques are to be believed.

In the past week, Microsoft's Open Source Software Lab (not to be confused with the independent Open Source Development Lab) made direct approaches to the Mozilla Foundation and to its community of open source developers, offering one-on-one help in porting Mozilla software to Vista. Those overtures appear to have been welcomed by Mozilla, although some developers continue to voice scepticism.

The Mozilla Foundation leads development of the popular Firefox browser and Thunderbird email client, both of which are open source. If the two do end up working together, the development represents a significant shift in Microsoft's relationship with open source software, which in the past has ranged from cold to openly hostile.

On Saturday 19 August, Sam Ramji, director of the Microsoft lab, sent an open letter to a Mozilla development newsgroup offering direct support.

Specifically, Ramji invited Mozilla developers to a workshop called the Windows Vista Readiness ISV Lab, a four-day event held every week through December. The lab lets developers work directly with Microsoft developers and support staff.

"In the past the company has only invited commercial software developers to these labs," Ramji wrote. "I'm committed to evolving our thinking beyond commercial companies to include open source projects, so I went to the nontrivial effort of getting slots for noncommercial open source projects."

Mozilla was quick to welcome the offer. "Yes, we'd definitely be interested in getting some one-to-one support," wrote Mike Beltzner, a "phenomenologist" with Mozilla. "The facility and program that you describe should really help to ensure that we get the proper integration issues looked at for Firefox 2 and Thunderbird 2."

He noted Mozilla has already been testing on Vista and that the team has been working with Microsoft on taking advantage of the "Default Program" infrastructure that will debut with Vista, but said there are a number of other important areas yet to be worked on. "Default Program" is a centralized control panel allowing users to designate which programs handle particular tasks by default, rather than allowing the programs to battle it out.

Beltzner said Mozilla developers would be particularly interested in the effects of Vista's application security mode, integration with InfoCard, integration with RSS features and integration with the built-in Vista calendar and address book.

He suggested Microsoft make additional Vista documentation, sample code and testing tools available for open source projects that can't afford to send developers to Redmond. "Something like a checklist of the most common OS integration points that have changed from Windows XP would be extremely useful," Beltzner said.

Some developers suggested Mozilla was not being sceptical enough of Microsoft's generosity. "Guys, I understand that the thought of receiving assistance in integrating with Vista is tempting, but this is the last company one should trust," wrote newsgroup contributor Adam Weston.

Microsoft's open source lab, created last year, is designed to help open source projects work better within Microsoft-centric environments. In March of this year the lab began publishing a collection of blogs on a site called Port 25, in an effort to better communicate with the outside world.

A few weeks after the site's launch, Bill Hilf, Microsoft's general manager of platform strategy, found it necessary to defuse several "interesting conspiracy theories," among them that the site was an "attempt to subterfuge the OSS community," that it was a "marketing or PR stunt," and that those working in the lab were "soulless sell-outs or villainous rascals."

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