Microsoft’s Bill Hilf Reveals Open Source Strategy

I think Microsoft’s Open Source Strategy is prudent and practical from their point of view. I don’t expect them to change their motivations in protecting patents. Windows and Linux can work well together. Hilf says they’re interested in integration with what their customers are using — hence their agreements with vendors like Red Hat and Novell.

They’ll also probably never cater to extremists like Richard Stallman. Hilf said:

We just had a bunch of our global account managers in with us, people who handle our super big customers, and they said, these customers don’t even know who Richard Stallman is, they don’t even care. They’ve chosen Linux or Apache or open source in general because of a few simple reasons: either price, or functionality, they want a more modular system or they want something that has a smaller footprint, there are certain needs that they have that are satisfied by that type of software… For us, it’s not a religion, there’s literally feature requests from customers showing up in some of our competitive products, we said great, people want this stuff.

I don’t object to closed source software. I have to use Windows, and I think it’s a very good operating system. Proprietary software serves a purpose in a world full of non-programmers and non-geeks who want to touch a button for everything and not tinker under the hood. As Hilf noted, people are willing to pay a “premium” for software that has measures of accountability and assurances that it will work in familiar ways. He says, “One of the challenges of open source and really the challenge with the open source business model is: it’s hard to replicate that ecosystem of accountability and that guarantee” [that] someone is on the other end making sure it works and is liable if it doesn’t.

I think that’s something most of the Linux and open source advocates need to address instead of engaging in hyperbole and demonization. Linux and open source software is only successful insofar as its utility can be demonstrated — not according to how high people who are reflexive anti-capitalists can fan flames against any software company. Not to mention those who think everyone should have the knowledge of a kernel hacker (as if everyone should also be an auto mechanic, air conditioner repairman, and physician). Whether activists like it or not, most people like open source software because it tends to be free as in beer and they don’t give a flip about accessing the code.

I’ve had a change of heart about the deals Linux vendors have made with Microsoft. At the end of the day, Red Hat and Novell and the rest are trying to serve their clients with what they want — which, more often than not, integrates open and closed source software. Their customers only want their computers to work together. They’re willing to pay for software, for service, or for both. If you’re for freedom, how can you object to giving consumers more choices? The loudest critics of these deals are the ones who want to restrict choice, not increase it.


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