Microsoft’s (desperate) open source love affair

Microsoft and open source

Microsoft and open source, those are two things that traditionally don’t mix. Quite the opposite; the more hardcore members of the open source community tend to view Microsoft as just one step below Satan.

But while much of the open source community has little love for Microsoft, Microsoft is actually trying desperately to send some love back. The Redmond giant may have its own business reasons for doing so, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that Microsoft is contributing to open source in more ways than most people are aware of.

For example, did you know that Microsoft is giving $100,000 per year to the Apache Software Foundation, making it one of only three “platinum” sponsors (the other two are Google and Yahoo).

Microsoft’s flirtation with open source

Microsoft’s sponsorship of the Apache Software Foundation is just the start. The company is actively working with and contributing to the open source community in a number of other ways. Here are more examples:

  • One of Microsoft’s more significant open source connections comes from a slightly unexpected source: Bing. Microsoft does work on HBase (which originated from Powerset, a company Microsoft bought in 2008), and HBase is an important part of Apache’s Hadoop project. The Powerset technology is used for parts of the Bing search engine, so that would mean that parts of Bing use open source code. Imagine that.
  • Microsoft has made contributions to PHP, making it run better and faster under Windows and with MS SQL Server.
  • Microsoft contributes to Apache’s Stonehenge incubator project (a project that promotes platform interoperability).
  • Microsoft has sponsored the development of an open source NFS client for Windows at the University of Michigan.
  • Microsoft is behind CodePlex, a portal for hosting open source projects. It’s the home of more than 13,000 projects.
  • Microsoft has an open source community portal called Port 25 on its TechNet site.
  • Since 2006, Microsoft is in a partnership with Novell to provide integration between Windows and Linux. This has resulted in for example the Novell-sponsored Mono project, an open source implementations of .NET.
  • And let’s not forget the bombshell Microsoft dropped last summer, when it contributed 22,000 lines of code to the Linux kernel. Albeit not without some drama.

Microsoft may not be 100% comfortable with open source, at least not yet, but they seem to be working on it. Hopefully this is a positive trend, a sign of a cultural change at Microsoft.

Climbing out of a hole of lost goodwill

It’s not going to be easy for Microsoft to get the open source crowd to really trust the company (not that they ever did). Microsoft has spent years digging itself into a pretty deep hole in terms of lost goodwill. Getting out of that hole will be a steep climb, and a bit of a marathon.

Considering all the antagonistic relationships Microsoft has with various open source projects, it’s not so strange it’s been labeled by many as a “big bad corporation.” Windows versus Linux, IIS versus Apache, Internet Explorer versus Firefox, Microsoft Office versus, etc.

However, it looks like Microsoft is slowly accepting that Linux and open source in general is both here to stay and a force to be reckoned with. Since 2006, Microsoft has been focusing its efforts toward interoperability rather than confrontation, for example via its collaboration with Novell.

And maybe, just maybe, a lot of people at Microsoft are tired of their bruised image and want some goodwill thrown their way for once.


  1. You’ll notice that just about all of Microsoft’s “embrace” of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) is related to “getting it to run better on Windows”. That’s because Microsoft is slowly but surely moving towards irrelevance. Microsoft is already an also-ran in the web space (the desktop has huge inertia and MS is in no major danger there, but it’s not a growth area, it’s not the future). They’re embracing FOSS… because they’re smart enough to know that they’ve been outflanked if they don’t. Their survival is not my concern, and their FOSS “support” smacks a bit too much of self-serving opportunism for my tastes. They’re only cooperating provisionally – they’re still hoping to find another way of killing FOSS, which is what they *really* want to do…

    1. @Dave Lane: Forgive us for playing Devil’s advocate here, but you say that Microsoft is being self-serving here and although you’re essentially right, perhaps a bit of perspective might be in place? They are providing expertise for things to run well with their products. Who better to do that than Microsoft? So that in itself is hardly a bad thing. And, isn’t this the way a lot of open source code happens? You work on code you either need or would like to see.

      That said, we’ll see what happens. Perhaps you’re right and it’s all part of some evil master plan. But perhaps we shouldn’t paint it as black and white.

  2. MS is indeed a commercial corporate that does want to make money, but at least they are not that protective and arrogant as Apple. Apple’s attack on Adobe CS5 says it all …

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