Microsoft and Open Source: The Real Deal?

Ice invaded my neighborhood this week.

New Hampshire got walloped by an insidious -- and yet stunningly beautiful -- storm that left tree limbs and power lines encased in a glistening coating of ice. If you reside, as I do, surrounded by tall trees and in close quarters with neighboring houses, then you understand what comes next: Timber! Among those limbs and branches unable to bear the extra weight of the ice, one came crashing down from atop a pine tree as loud as a missile; my house was spared -- barely -- but alas, I lost my cable line and thus my source of Internet access.

Which brings me to this revelation: I have become one of those people who can't live without Internet access. Even though my job as a journalist has long required the immediacy of the Web as a resource and publishing outlet, I have tried to fancy myself someone who, in her off time, can live without e-mail, IM and hourly news flashes for a few days. I didn't make it an hour before I found myself skidding along the road to make it to the local Starbucks, where I joined the telecommuter refugee camp, everyone jockeying for the few remaining seats. I have a problem, clearly.

Many of you wrote me last week about Microsoft's open source initiatives (see my mailbag below), but there was no real consensus to your thoughts on this subject; some feel Microsoft is legitimately trying to participate in the open source development process while others are skeptical that its efforts are not, let's just say, altruistic. Nonetheless, it's clear by Microsoft's deal with rival Novell (see "Hell: Frozen Over," Redmond magazine, November 2006) that the company is no longer of the mind that open source -- and Linux in particular -- is a business model it can crush. Ballmer once infamously referred to Linux as a "cancer" that feeds off the intellectual property of others; now he's making nice with one of Linux's biggest proponents.

How many of you use open source tools to extend existing applications or build new ones? Are any of you considering Novell's SuSE Desktop Linux as an alternative to deploying Windows Vista?

Better yet, can any of you live without the Internet? Stay warm. Write me at [email protected].

Carolyn's Mailbag: Microsoft and Open Source, Desktop Duel, More
Last week, I asked readers what they thought about Microsoft's foray into open source. Here's one reader who thinks it's more than just
lip service:

In your article Microsoft vs. Google Office Showdown? you ask if Microsoft is genuinely in the spirit. This question is interesting because the spirit of open source has grown from its nascent stages of an ideological or practical way of creating software to "something everyone is dabbling in" for different reasons. Brian Fitzgerald in "The Transformation of Open Source Software" writes that the culture of open source software is changing and has room for several models of open source development. My point is that the spirit of open source now moves along a continuum from ideologically driven to profit-driven.

I suggest that Microsoft's efforts to engage in open source are not "weak" but rather they are finding where they fit on the continuum. CodePlex is a community of open source developers supported by Microsoft. The key here is that Microsoft supports a community of open source developers. How is this weak?

My interest in open source at Microsoft led me to working with them to build a tool that will extend what CodePlex offers. This tool helps support HCI expertise so that usability can be attended to. This is the first attempt of any open source community to widely and explicitly support usability concerns right along with development concerns. Certain individual projects support usability -- for example, Firefox and gathers usability professionals and users interested in usability to work on open source projects, but the way each project supports usability varies. The project we are working on will give projects new ways of supporting usability concerns. So from my perspective, Microsoft is slowly finding innovative ways to "stake some ground in the open source world."

And who wins in the battle for the desktop? Readers who've pitted Microsoft and Google against each other chime in:

I have tried both and now am canceling my Office Live account in favor of my Google domain account. The Office Live mail is buggy and does not allow export of contacts or forwarding. Although I prefer the Microsoft Office Live calendar, it is not enough to keep me on board. I am a software developer using Microsoft tools -- however, I am becoming more and more impressed with the offerings from Google.

Also, Google Docs rocks!


When Google's service is slow, you can lose an entire document to the wrong click, and not be able to retrieve any of it. I've worked with it enough to know to use a text editor, and then post that draft to my Google Docs. And I have ridiculously fast bandwidth.

With our current architecture, by contrast, documents are cached locally by Word in the Office temps folder, synchronized to our fileserver, which takes snapshots every eight hours and incremental/full backups every 24. Business-critical docs need all that and more.

For small stuff, or collaboration, Docs & Spreadsheets looks great. For corporate or reliability, not yet by a long shot.

Finally, confused about the different versions of CRM and how they can work for you? You're not the only one:

From where I sit as an ISV Partner, MS has done a poor job explaining what all these products are and how they fit into various business scenarios. SMB: What pieces do I need, what are nice to have, what are overkill?

About the Author

Carolyn April is the executive editor of features for Redmond magazine.


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