‘MS was never against Open Source’

FACE TO FACE [source : http://economictimes.com]
Publication: Economic Times Mumbai; Date:2006 May 18; Section:Networked; Page Number 13
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MICROSOFT and Open Source software - one always thought they were like India and Pakistan. Forever doomed to be enemies. However, a tad surprisingly, it turns out that both Microsoft and Open Source have learnt to cooperate in many areas. Prabhakar Deshpande caught up with Bill Hilf, general manager, Platform Technology Strategy of Microsoft to understand this newfound love.

Aren’t Microsoft and Open Source software rivals?
Not really. The way we look at it is that Open Source is a process of developing software. Microsoft has never been against the Open Source community, or the process. Yes, we do compete with an Open Source product – say Red Hat Linux. We also compete with other commercial software like those from Oracle. Then again, we work jointly with Oracle too as the software can be loaded on Windows.

What is Microsoft’s stand on Open Source?
Building software is a process that has many aspects – understanding customer requirements, code writing, quality assurance and support. On code writing, Open Source does pretty well. However, the challenge is in customers’ requirements. Who is Open Source coders designing the software for? Most often, the developer is designing for himself – something like scratching your own back. Microsoft, on the other hand, tries to understand customer requirements. These are entirely two different approaches.

Are Microsoft and Open Source platforms now more closely integrated?
We have to work together. We share a common customer base. Microsoft software products have to work with Oracle or IBM products as well. It is more of co-opetition. We are simultaneously adopting a competitive and collaborative approach. For instance, I went to deliver the keynote address at Linux World this year. We are vitalising and supporting Linux on the Windows Server environment. We work on Windows so that it can run Linux and even, Linux can run Windows.

How do you see the future of Open Source software over the next 10 years?
Open Source will be around in certain areas. However, due to the deficiency in their development model, they will not be able to do better than they have done in the past.
It is the same 10 companies that have been there are dominating. It could be argued that Open Source has peaked. They are incrementally getting better no doubt. But there is unlikely to be any big-bang change.

Are there any special challenges in trying to work on inter-operability with Open Source software?
There are some advantages in working with Open Source. They are faster to work. They are more pragmatic. They are, in fact, more open to Windows. However, there are disadvantages too. They have a very restrictive licensing regime. This surprisingly constrains the freedom and choice, despite being known as Open Source.

Why do software engineers work on open source?
Though there are millions of Open Source engineers – most of them work on device drivers and so on. But often the work on, say Linux, is done by paid engineers. There are only 100-150 engineers doing work on Linux and 99% are employed for doing the work. Similarly, most of the work on MySQL, Apache, PHP is done by paid engineers.

Had to put it up for all to read. Interesting is it not? Especially comments like "They have a very restrictive licensing regime. This surprisingly constrains the freedom and choice" and "there are millions of Open Source engineers – most of them work on device drivers and so on". Now this is news from the omniscient M we did not know, did we?


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