Friday, July 27, 2007

Microsoft goes open source?

Microsoft says it’s going to submit its shared source licenses for approval by the Open Source Initiative. Why now? What’s changed? Microsoft’s been doing shared source for at least 5 years (I recall writing about it back in 2002.)

I don’t imagine the licenses have changed. Certainly OSI has gotten less amenable to new licenses, fighting what it claims is “license proliferation” — a concern I’ve been very skeptical of.

Instead, the implication is that something changed for Microsoft. Is Microsoft softening on its anti-OSS line? Are antitrust concerns forcing it to be less ruthless in fighting OSS? Is the option of OSS so great that it can’t antagonize corporate OSS users any more? Is Shared Source having trouble because it’s not real open source? (That hasn’t slowed down some SV companies with quasi-OSS licenses).

I wonder whether Microsoft is going to go through the motions to pretend it wants to be part of the open source club and OSI will go through the motions pretending it is seriously considering the proposal. With this scenario, some minor issue will be the stumbling block and both sides have a way out.

The only thing odder than Microsoft shipping open source (under its own vanity licenses) would be (as Matt Asay has discussed) that Microsoft buy Red Hat. Even ignoring the crippling antitrust issues, it’s just not in the cards, for two reasons.

First, this would be a desperation move for such a proprietary software company — about like Oracle buying MySQL and killing Oracle 9 instead of MySQL. Novell got that desperate, but Microsoft is still obscenely profitable and Bill Gates is still the 2nd richest man in the world. Firms make such cataclysmic shifts when they’re desperate, and Microsoft’s not there yet.

Second, if Microsoft sold a Linux distro (whether buying RH or just making their own), who would buy it? Would an open source advocate? A company looking for a product with long-term support? The idea that Linux would be a high priority for Microsoft corporate while Windows remains the bread-and-butter seems ludicrous.

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Matt Asay said...

Joel: I was with you until you suggested it was my idea that Microsoft buy Red Hat. I never said that - my old blog space said that. Savio Rodrigues of IBM actually made that suggestion, and I swatted it in the comments. I think it's a dumb idea.

Joel West said...

Matt, I corrected the record to make you just a messenger. Sounds like we're on the same page with this one.