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Does Microsoft Have an Open Source Heart?

Microsoft's open source outreach effort, which started just a few years ago, isn't dead on arrival, if you hear Sam Ramji, Microsoft's senior director of platform strategy, talk about it. Rather, it's coming alive.

For instance, Ramji told the largely software developer crowd at OSCON last week that Microsoft was joining the Apache Software Foundation, a nonprofit group that focuses on open source Web server projects.

Even before that event, which was held in Portland, Ore., Ramji expressed optimism for Microsoft's nascent open source initiatives.

"A beating heart is the core of what we are going to be doing in the next several years with open source and Linux," Ramji said in an interview with Barton George prior to the event. Ramji is part of the Microsoft Linux/Open Source Software Lab and works with a corporate strategy and execution team.

He added that Microsoft has increased the number of its employees working on open source projects worldwide, from 14 to 15 people about a year ago to 112 people today.

Even a number like 112 is still a tiny blip on the screen. As of May, Microsoft had a total of 89,809 worldwide employees, according to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer report. So that means that just 0.124 percent of Microsoft's employees currently concentrate on open source.

Microsoft's engineers have submitted over 300 projects on Codeplex, Microsoft's open source developer portal, Ramji said. Another open source milestone for the company was Microsoft's acceptance of the Open Source Initiative's authority on licensing, he said.

Microsoft has two open source licenses that were vetted by that nonprofit body, which maintains an open source definition standard. Those licenses include the Microsoft Public License, a BSD-like license according to Ramji, and the Microsoft Reciprocal License, which is Microsoft's "copy-left" license.

The mistake that Microsoft has made with its products is to not be agnostic, according to Ramji. He added that Microsoft plans to focus more on interoperability, working with platforms such as Linux or Solaris.

Ramji clarified the open source comments by Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, spoken earlier this month. Ballmer denied that Microsoft's products would become open source at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston. Ramji explained that Ballmer was referring to Microsoft's core products, such Exchange, SQL Server and others.

Ballmer described it this way at the conference, per a Microsoft-issued transcript.

"Number one, are our products likely to be open sourced? No," Ballmer said. "We do provide our source code in special situations, but open source also implies free, free is inconsistent with paying for lunches at the partner conference. (Applause.) With that said, there are a number of different things. Will we interoperate with products that come from like Linux, from the open source world? Yes, we will."

Still, Ramji will have a tough time convincing some in the open source community. The Free Software Foundation, while not an advocate of open source software per se, does believe that software should be free to all.

Peter Brown, executive director of the Free Software Foundation, said of Ballmer's comments that Microsoft is trying to establish a better relationship with the open source software community to the detriment of GNU Linux.

"Microsoft wants people to build code to the Windows platform rather than GNU Linux, but the FSF's view is to build an ecosystem with free software," Brown explained.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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