Microsoft: We’ve been into open source for years

Bill Hilf showed a conciliatory approch to working with 'the open source process'

After listening to Microsoft’s Bill Hilf, one delegate at the recent government IT managers’ forum, Govis, was heard to say, “You’d almost believe Microsoft was the leading supporter of open source software.”

Hilf is director of Microsoft’s platform strategy applications group, the technical team that works with Linux and other open source initiatives. “We’ve been in open source software for years”, he said, over an audio-conference link aided by slides.

This, he maintains is quite compatible with being a proprietary closed-source company when it comes to its own products. “We draw a barrier between cooperating with the [open source] process and competing with the products.”

Typical of this is Microsoft’s participation in the community surrounding the open source JBoss application server, he says. “We did a deal with them a year ago; 60% of their customers were also ours and we wanted to have a story for the Java folks as well as those on .Net.”

He also points to Microsofts collaboration with the open source processes of Sun, Apple, SAP and SugarCRM, an open source CRM product which has considerably eroded the market for its proprietary competitors.

Hilf emphasised the “open standards/ interoperability” message, citing web services and a welter of links between Microsoft and open source products in the identity, management and networking spaces, and (with Unix systems) through the architecture of Windows Server 2003 R2.

The laboratory Hilf runs is dedicated to “open source technology research, analysis testing, feedback and education” and includes a number of experts from the Linux and Unix worlds.

Microsoft’s shared source initiative — releasing source code under controlled circumstances to aid collaborative development — was also given a plug.

A number of delegates thought the Microsoft position came across as much more conciliatory than the address given by local representative Brett Roberts at the last Govis open source session, three years ago, when the lines were drawn firmly between the open source and Microsoft.

Roberts, who coordinated the Hilf audio-conference at the New Zealand end, saw this as true of the whole conference. “The first time a lot of people were sitting in their own camps and speaking from their own philosophical perspective. This year it was clear that we’d moved closer together in a lot of ways.”

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