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Microsoft strips to seduce Linux

When we look at relationships and the course history takes the past seems like an illusion wondering if it ever existed. It was just the other day that Microsoft and Open Source were bitter enemies, writes Puneet Mehotra.

business Updated: Aug 27, 2009 22:59 IST
Puneet Mehotra

"The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion" said Albert Einstein.

When we look at relationships and the course history takes the past seems like an illusion wondering if it ever existed. It was just the other day that Microsoft and Open Source were bitter enemies.

One a packaged software corporate giant driven solely by profits. The other completely driven by passion by a group of geeks not even under the same roof.

In 2001, Microsoft had said "Linux is cancer." A few years MS started decided to apply balm to heal the cancer and mend its relationship with Linux through its Open Source initiatives. Its 2009 now and Microsoft, the once closely guarded organisation is stripping its soul, literally, to woo Open Source by releasing 20,000 lines of Linux code to the Linux kernel community in the name of interoperability something not even Bill Gates could imagine 10 years ago!

In Perspective

Imagine if one fine day India and Pakistan decide to get together and exchange their nuclear documents for the common good of the citizens of the sub-continent. Sounds unbelievable, right?

Microsoft and Linux have been the same. Besides ideological differences in terms of software creation, ownership and distribution there must be rarely a common ground between them. Microsoft's Chief Steve Ballmer in 2001 had said, "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches."

Linus Torvalds, father of Linux OS, on the other hand, led a one man army and created an entire guerilla front of geeks separated by geography but bound by passion that in time became the biggest threat for the biggest organisation on earth, Microsoft.

Besides another major difference is the way the two create software. Microsoft's model is solely driven by profits. Linux's model is solely driven by passion. Microsoft writes 1 line of code and gets 1000 patents for it. Linux is written and distributed under the GNU General Public License, which means that its source code is freely-distributed and available to the general public.

Microsoft - A confused organisation

Around 4 years ago things changed at Microsoft through its Open Source initiatives. What can be termed as a late reaction from a confused company that till recently was all against Open Source and GPL. Whether Microsoft was for Open Source or against it perhaps not even Microsoft was very sure!

In July this year came the biggest shocker from Microsoft. The once closed and highly guarded Microsoft decided to open 20,000 lines of Linux code to the Linux kernel community in the name of interoperability. In addition Microsoft also highlighted the ongoing investment the company is making to optimize PHP on Windows Server and the Microsoft SQL Server database system.

What motivated Microsoft to do the unthinkable to get literally get into the heart of Linux kernel? Sam Ramji, senior director of Platform Strategy at Microsoft, in a statement said, "The current economic climate has a lot of companies consolidating their hardware and software assets. Many companies are turning to Microsoft more frequently to help them succeed in a heterogeneous technology. So there's mutual benefit for customers, for Microsoft, and for commercial and community distributions of Linux, to enhance the performance of Linux as a guest operating system where Windows Server is the host."

And what was the objective of Microsoft doing this? Says Tom Hanrahan, director of Microsoft's Open Source Technology Center, "Our initial goal in developing the code was to enable Linux to run as a virtual machine on top of Hyper-V, Microsoft's hypervisor and implementation of virtualization."

The Linux View

From Linux side Greg Kroah-Hartman, Linux Driver Project Lead, said "Microsoft's contribution is a good move for Linux. I'm pleased to see Microsoft working to build a better relationship with the Linux community. I think that this will be good news for users and organizations who want to see better interoperability between Windows and Linux."

If Microsoft opening was a surprise, the bigger surprise came from Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux, "Microsoft hatred is a disease" said he.

Microsoft's Motivation - Greed or Interoperability

The big question is can Microsoft be trusted? What it couldn't do to Open Source all these years is this a new way of finishing Linux and making it obsolete.

There is a possibility. On the macro level Microsoft's Open Source could be to make Linux obsolete. Mary Jo in Zdnet says "Microsoft's goal is to convince OSS vendors to port their software to Windows. But Microsoft doesn't want OSS software to just sit on top of Windows; the company wants this software to be tied into the Windows ecosystem by integrating with Active Directory, Microsoft Office, Expression designer tools, System Center systems-management wares and SQL Server database."

Linus Torvalds has so far been very confident of Open Source and doesn't see Microsoft as a threat. Says he "I agree that it's driven by selfish reasons, but that's how all open source code gets written! We all "scratch our own itches". So complaining about the fact that Microsoft picked a selfish area to work on is just silly. Of course they picked an area that helps them."

He goes on to add "Does anybody complain when hardware companies write drivers for the hardware they produce? No. That would be crazy. Does anybody complain when IBM funds all the POWER development, and works on enterprise features because they sell into the enterprise? No. That would be insane. So the people who complain about Microsoft writing drivers for their own virtualization model should take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves why they are being so hypocritical."

Microsoft's Interoperability Argument

It is also true the way business and governments are operating in mixed environments which include both Microsoft and open source applications. Interoperabilty does make increasing sense especially for enterprise customers.

The Last Word

Microsoft is a commercial organization and its objective solely is profit. Microsoft's biggest worry right now is Google, which it sees as its biggest enemy that maybe eating into its bottomline soon. Call it desperation but Microsoft urgently needs to get into newer markets and also tap cheaper talent pools. The Open Source may just be the right platform to piggyback and also get closer to a community IBM, SUN and Google have been wooing and using for years now. IBM, SUN and Google are also commercial organizations using Open Source talent pool. Will someone also question their motives on wooing Open Source?

Puneet Mehotra writes on technology