For most Open Source advocates the idea that Microsoft and open source could be mentioned in the same breathe without any suggestion of conflict is perhaps the begin of the second coming. It may not be that far off – not the second coming but an open source friendly Microsoft. An interesting blog post by Whurley over at BMC Software lists seven reasons why Microsoft loves open source; whurley makes some pretty convincing points.
For some reason, Microsoft has become the poster child of anti-open source sentiments but looking at it without the passions that are usually infused into any Microsoft and open source discussion, Microsoft is not any different from the rest of them like IBM, Novell, Oracle etc. IBM for example does not have any direct involvement with an open source project that I know of but instead they provide financial support (direct or indirectly) and donate code to various open source projects. Novell for its part has a Linux distro that it oversees and makes money from, in addition to the proprietary software that it has.
Open source has advantages that Microsoft can’t replicated or even pull their tried and tested tactic of embrace and extend. Microsoft needs to adopt to the open source way of doing things in a similar manner that Sun MicroSystems has done with Java and Solaris. Earlier Microsoft responses to open source were largely misguided and lacked an understanding of what open source is. However Microsoft currently shows a greater distinction between open source as a movement and the products of the movement. Microsoft competition is with the products of the open source movement and not the movement itself; this does not mean that Microsoft is barred from any open source participation and/or affiliation. Microsoft will need to enter the open source game and play it to its own advantage. From an open source perspective, its image still suffers from its earlier attempts to take on the open source movement where FUD was the tactic of the day.
Perhaps an interesting perspective on the reasons why Microsoft would embrace open source is the state of their current crown jewels: Windows and Office are dominant in the market but this dominance can’t be maintained indefinitely. I can’t say what will challenge this dominance but the Internet and services like Google Apps and Glide Office are certainly interesting contenders on that front. The next group of PC users will be from the so called emerging economies that are increasingly creative in the manner in which they make use of technology. The users from these emerging economies are more than willing to look at Google Apps and related services to see how it works for them. Long term, there exists a threat to Microsoft’s revenues from Windows and Office so they need to diversify which means winning in new markets and emerging technologies. One of the key advantage of open source is their ability to release products at a faster rate than Microsoft can manage; the quality of these releases usually improve overtime but the release cycle is quite rapid.
Windows and Office may never be open sourced but Microsoft will become more amenable to the concepts and principles of open source. This week, it was announced that Adobe will be releasing their Flex tool as open source and PC world reports that Microsoft intends to announce plans to release part of their recently announced Silverlight technology to open source community. No doubt open source has become a tool for competition in the software industry and Microsoft is not entirely excused from taking advantage of it.