Are Microsoft's open-source actions enough?

Microsoft has made some positive pro-open source moves, but skepticism in the open source community is justified.

While Microsoft realizes there is greater benefit to collaborating with the open source community from an interoperability perspective, it may prove difficult to change its pro-proprietary image, said an open source analyst.

Microsoft was a company focused on intellectual property claims where "not more than two years ago claimed that Linux software infringed on some of its 235 patents," said Jay Lyman with The 451 Group. Yet, he added, it's hard to argue with the work that the software giant is doing with Novell, and of the presence it has on SourceForge, the development and download repository of open source code.

Indeed, the company announced the Microsoft Open Source Technology Center this year, which was essentially a unification of the Open Source Software Lab opened in Redmond, Wash., three years ago, and the Microsoft/Novell Interoperability Lab in Cambridge, Mass., a year ago.

While the Center may not physically be one building, the unification "was really an opportunity for us to pull the work together to be very focused on a few areas," said Tom Hanrahan, director of the Microsoft Open Source Technology Center.

With a total of 15 staff between both locations, the Center is funded by Microsoft but resourced by both Microsoft and Novell. The Cambridge Lab, for instance, has an even split of Novell and Microsoft staff.

The Center's areas of focus, continued Hanrahan, include promoting cooperation and collaboration between Microsoft and the open source community toward identifying specific projects that will grow that relationship, and work at expanding support for open source software running on the Windows platform, and interoperability between Linux and Windows.

Specifically, one such project, Moonlight, entails collaborating with Novell to make Microsoft's Rich Internet Application technology Silverlight accessible to both Linux and Windows platform users.

Also, the Cambridge Lab, specifically, is focused on virtualization and ensuring that guest operating systems in a virtual environment can run well on both Microsoft's Hyper-V and the open source community's Xen. To that end, the Center has in place a uniform testing infrastructure to run and share test results. "We can really do a deep dive on performance issues and work together to resolve them both on the Windows platform and on the Linux platform," said Hanrahan.

Interoperability of system management using the WS-Management Protocol, too, is an ongoing project to ensure Microsoft's System Centre and Novell's ZenWorks Orchestrator can manage heterogeneous data centers on both Linux and Windows platforms.

The Center also works with the Samba community on storage technologies, currently specifically around interoperability testing between file and print services, but has begun discussions around identity management as well.

In light of its open source friendly moves, Lyman does believe Microsoft has changed as a company from an open source interoperability perspective, however, like any large entity, he thinks it can't just entertain a single approach. "Most vendors don't have just one view and that's probably a good thing," said Lyman, adding that as a public company, Microsoft has shareholders to answer to.

But skepticism in the open source community of Microsoft's pro-open source moves is justified, thinks Lyman, given the company's history and actions. In addition to the accusations of patent infringement, he cited the sensitive topic of the ISO approval of Microsoft's OOXML format.

"In general there's growing acceptance," said Lyman, "but the progress that it makes it limits itself sometimes with other actions or activities that contribute and reinforce skepticism."

But part of the controversy is the extent to which open source software and open standard developers and supporters should go to make their technologies work with that of Microsoft's, said Lyman. "I think there is some feeling that you can work forever on that and Microsoft will never let it happen."

Moving forward this year, Hanrahan said the Center is focused on its relationship with the Samba community, of which some members are currently in Redmond to do work on Active Directory and identity management.

The PHP community is also a strong area of interest, said Hanrahan, and the Center recently hired a PHP contributor to help work on interoperability on Windows.

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