Microsoft and Open Source: The Real Deal?
- By Carolyn April
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
Carolyn's Mailbag: Microsoft and Open Source, Desktop
I asked readers what they thought about Microsoft's foray into open source.
Here's one reader who thinks it's more than just
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
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 openoffice.org. Openusability.org 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?
Carolyn April is the executive editor of features for Redmond magazine.