Microsoft embraces open source - to a point

The company is expanding its participation in open source endeavors, no longer believes Linux is a 'cancer'

Microsoft has made public its embrace of open source, evolving from being essentially a proprietary software company to getting involved in multiple open source efforts.

These have included participating in the Apache Software Foundation and forming the CodePlex open source project hosting site and the Outercurve Foundation (formerly CodePlex Foundation) to bridge open source and business communities. In 2012, the company unveiled Microsoft Open Technologies, a subsidiary focused on advancing Microsoft's investment in open source, standards and interoperability.

Recently, Microsoft announced an integration between the popular open source Git-distributed revision control system and the company's Visual Studio development tools.

InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill interviewed Gianugo Rabellino, senior director of open source communities at Microsoft Open Technologies, about the company's latest perspectives on open source.

What's been your outreach at this point?

Open Technologies was launched officially on April 16, so as the first anniversary approaches, there are a number of topics that we are involved with that I think it would be interesting to talk about. The most recent that we launched was VM Depot, [providing] open source images for Windows Azure.

What are these images of?

We have images for the major open source frameworks, WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, You name it. If there is a popular open source application, it's probably there. The 100th image was released on a hardened version of Ubuntu.

Will Microsoft ever make Windows open source?

I'm not aware of any plans in that direction. Just open sourcing isn't quite enough. The problem is what's behind it? So open sourcing without bringing up the developer community and letting people in to contribute, it's just code that you throw every now and then over the wall. Open sourcing without understanding what is the impact on standards and interoperability, is again an effort that nowadays only brings you this far. We've seen a lot of change. Microsoft is increasingly becoming what we call a devices and services company. What we're seeing is that the two worlds are becoming more and more connected.

Does Microsoft plan to open source any Windows Phone technologies?

I am not aware of any plans.

I read that Windows Phone is going to have a lot of growth, but it's still going to be way behind Apple iOS and Google Android. Would Microsoft consider some kind of open-source maneuver to get more developer interest, to get more use of Windows Phone?

I don't think that that's where open source can really make a difference. I don't think so. At the end of the day, success in mobile really depends on having a solid, consistent platform, a solid consumer experience in the overall devices. I like our story on the phone, to the tablets, to the crossover devices, to the laptops, to the all-in-ones, to your TV Xbox, all with a consistent interface. I think that this consistency at this point is more important.

At the same time, however, there is a point to be made for being open, because we need to get developers. You need to make sure that you have a very solid story when it comes to developers, because they are the ones who make the investment in your platform and they are the ones that care about openness. But let's think about what openness means here. Openness here means having a solid set of reliable APIs. Openness means having everything documented. Openness means being out there for Microsoft and have places where we have a conversation with developers. Microsoft is no stranger to that. MSDN is huge if you think about it.

Do you think Microsoft is no longer viewed as being the nemesis of open source?

I can tell you that when I joined Microsoft [two years ago], I of course asked around, I had quite a few contacts. [I talked with] my friends are very, very into open source. Every single one of them told me to go for it because they didn't see it as a problem at all. They clearly understood that Microsoft had changed over the years and that the market had changed as well. So this was the right time.

Microsoft used to have cross-licensing agreements regarding patents. Does Microsoft still claim that Linux infringed Microsoft patents?

I am not involved with that particular side. We take pride in what we do. We are not shy about saying that we have open source software and proprietary software, and we think that they can go together. We are [respectful] of others' intellectual property. We just ask the same. We are in negotiation, ongoing, with other companies and other providers. That's par for the course in the industry. We are being very vocal, for example, on the of patent reforms.

Steve Ballmer said something about Linux being a "cancer." How does Microsoft feel about Linux these days?

I opened up telling you about Linux images [on VM Depot]. We began to realize that what the customers are running are complex IT infrastructures where they are using more than one technology. What we want to do is make sure that we provide the best place for those technologies to run together. This is why, as an example, we're now listed as one of the top contributors [to] the Linux kernel.

What has Microsoft contributed?

We have contributed drivers for Hyper-V, for our virtualization layer. You can run Linux as a guest operating system on a Hyper-V hypervisor.

What does the Git embrace in Visual Studio mean?

It's part of the way that Microsoft has changed as a company and become more open. There is an important trend, this important trend is distributed version control and there is a well-established player out there. Developers are depending on it. They know it. They like it, so we're going to support it.

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