"The distinction between past,
present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion" said Albert
When we look at relationships
and the course history takes the past seems like an illusion wondering if it
ever existed. It was just the other day that Microsoft and Open Source were
bitter enemies. One a packaged software corporate giant driven solely by
profits. The other completely driven by passion by a group of geeks not even
under the same roof.
In 2001, Microsoft had said
"Linux is cancer." A few years MS started decided to apply balm to heal the
cancer and mend its relationship with Linux through its Open Source initiatives.
Its 2009 now and Microsoft, the once closely guarded organisation is stripping
its soul, literally, to woo Open Source by releasing 20,000 lines of Linux code
to the Linux kernel community in the name of interoperability something not even
Bill Gates could imagine 10 years ago!
Imagine if one fine day India
and Pakistan decide to get together and exchange their nuclear documents for the
common good of the citizens of the sub-continent. Sounds unbelievable, right?
Microsoft and Linux have been
the same. Besides ideological differences in terms of software creation,
ownership and distribution there must be rarely a common ground between them.
Microsoft's Chief Steve Ballmer in 2001 had said, "Linux is a cancer that
attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches."
Linus Torvalds, father of Linux
OS, on the other hand, led a one man army and created an entire guerilla front
of geeks separated by geography but bound by passion that in time became the
biggest threat for the biggest organisation on earth, Microsoft.
Besides another major
difference is the way the two create software. Microsoft's model is solely
driven by profits. Linux's model is solely driven by passion. Microsoft writes 1
line of code and gets 1000 patents for it. Linux is written and distributed
under the GNU General Public License, which means that its source code is
freely-distributed and available to the general public.
Microsoft - A confused
Around 4 years ago things
changed at Microsoft through its Open Source initiatives. What can be termed as
a late reaction from a confused company that till recently was all against Open
Source and GPL. Whether Microsoft was for Open Source or against it perhaps not
even Microsoft was very sure!
In July this year came the
biggest shocker from Microsoft. The once closed and highly guarded Microsoft
decided to open 20,000 lines of Linux code to the Linux kernel community in the
name of interoperability. In addition Microsoft also highlighted the ongoing
investment the company is making to optimize PHP on Windows Server and the
Microsoft SQL Server database system.
What motivated Microsoft to do
the unthinkable to get literally get into the heart of Linux kernel? Sam Ramji,
senior director of Platform Strategy at Microsoft, in a statement said, "The
current economic climate has a lot of companies consolidating their hardware and
software assets. Many companies are turning to Microsoft more frequently to help
them succeed in a heterogeneous technology. So there's mutual benefit for
customers, for Microsoft, and for commercial and community distributions of
Linux, to enhance the performance of Linux as a guest operating system where
Windows Server is the host."
And what was the objective of
Microsoft doing this? Says Tom Hanrahan, director of Microsoft's Open Source
Technology Center, "Our initial goal in developing the code was to enable Linux
to run as a virtual machine on top of Hyper-V, Microsoft's hypervisor and
implementation of virtualization."
The Linux View
From Linux side Greg Kroah-Hartman,
Linux Driver Project Lead, said "Microsoft's contribution is a good move for
Linux. I'm pleased to see Microsoft working to build a better relationship with
the Linux community. I think that this will be good news for users and
organizations who want to see better interoperability between Windows and
If Microsoft opening was a
surprise, the bigger surprise came from Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux,
"Microsoft hatred is a disease" said he.
- Greed or Interoperability
The big question is can
Microsoft be trusted? What it couldn't do to Open Source all these years is this
a new way of finishing Linux and making it obsolete.
There is a possibility. On the
macro level Microsoft's Open Source could be to make Linux obsolete. Mary Jo in
Zdnet says "Microsoft's goal is to convince OSS vendors to port their software
to Windows. But Microsoft doesn't want OSS software to just sit on top of
Windows; the company wants this software to be tied into the Windows ecosystem
by integrating with Active Directory, Microsoft Office, Expression designer
tools, System Center systems-management wares and SQL Server database."
Linus Torvalds has so far been
very confident of Open Source and doesn't see Microsoft as a threat. Says he "I
agree that it's driven by selfish reasons, but that's how all open source code
gets written! We all "scratch our own itches". So complaining about the fact
that Microsoft picked a selfish area to work on is just silly. Of course they
picked an area that helps them."
He goes on to add "Does anybody
complain when hardware companies write drivers for the hardware they produce?
No. That would be crazy. Does anybody complain when IBM funds all the POWER
development, and works on enterprise features because they sell into the
enterprise? No. That would be insane. So the people who complain about Microsoft
writing drivers for their own virtualization model should take a long look in
the mirror and ask themselves why they are being so hypocritical."
It is also true the way
business and governments are operating in mixed environments which include both
Microsoft and open source applications. Interoperabilty does make increasing
sense especially for enterprise customers.
The Last Word
Microsoft is a commercial
organization and its objective solely is profit. Microsoft's biggest worry right
now is Google, which it sees as its biggest enemy that maybe eating into its
bottomline soon. Call it desperation but Microsoft urgently needs to get into
newer markets and also tap cheaper talent pools. The Open Source may just be the
right platform to piggyback and also get closer to a community IBM, SUN and
Google have been wooing and using for years now. IBM, SUN and Google are also
commercial organizations using Open Source talent pool. Will someone also
question their motives on wooing Open Source?