Microsoft's Open-Source Push?


Remember this quote?  "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches."  It was uttered by none other than Microsoft frontman Steve Ballmer himself, in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in 2001.  It's no secret that Microsoft has put itself right in the center of the proprietary versus open-source war.  But the software giant is now starting to dabble in the dark side of open-source projects itself.  We're getting nothing but mixed-signals from Redmond.  So what is it, Microsoft?  Cancer, or cash-cow?

(photo credit: DBegley )


Up on PressPass, Microsoft is touting how it thinks companies should deal with the increasing financial burdens put into place by the weakening economy: buy Microsoft software.  That's the gist, here's the nuts.  Microsoft suggests that open-source software comes with too many hidden costs and fees, and the support simply isn't where enterprise businesses need to be in order to ensure consistent uptime.  Microsoft makes a compelling case by using Speedy Hire, a British company, as its prime example.  According to the company, it was able to save nearly $1.5 million by turning away from Linux-based PCs and OpenOffice to Microsoft servers and software. Eat it, OSS.


Enter Oxite .  Microsoft just released this huge, open-source CMS platform the other day.  It can power anything from blogs to Web sites, and can even support multiple users accessing the interface (for running a Gawker of your very own).  Wordpress is undoubtedly eyeing this new product quite closely--especially given the new platform's interoperability.  The highly-customizable Oxite makes it easy for you to swap out proprietary Microsoft technologies, like Live Search and SQL server, for others you see fit to use.


The next battle lines for Microsoft?  Robots.  That's right. Robots .  The company has been working on developing the backbone tools for the next generation of robotics, but it isn't alone!  The open-source movement is beginning to make progress in this field as well.  Expect to see an eventual showdown in the field (if only it could be decided in a BattleBots-type arena), although there's a silver lining to Microsoft's involvement: "the software giant is also generating a 'huge amount of excitement' for robotics, which is a good thing for the industry, which needs more software development to catch up with the hardware," notes the article.


In the past many months, Microsoft has acquired companies that provide open-source code for larger technological platforms.  It's even contributed its own code to ongoing open-source projects, presuming that the open-source movement now has the ability to Microsoft's underlying business objectives.  Sound crazy?  It's completely understandable to think that, and even internal Microsoft folk agree.  It's going to take a bit more cajoling before Microsoft's business units, as a whole, are ready to embrace what OSS has to offer.


Neither.  That's right.  Just as Microsoft begins to slowly adopt the tenets of open-source architecture, it's going to fight tooth and nail against any open-source project that threatens its financial livelihood.  It's a prudent business move, one that's analogous to dipping a toe into a hot bathtub to check the temperature.  If the open-source community can help Microsoft's business goals in some fashion--as the company is starting to recognize--then you'll see a bit of a cultural shift.  And that's what's happening in Redmond right now.  Microsoft isn't shifting to open-source; it's finding ways it can use open-source to further propagate its business models.  And in the places it can't, the company is doing whatever it can to preserve its own ambitions, open-source or otherwise!

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