Interviews: Four Open Source Questions for Microsoft

by Ostatic Staff - May. 29, 2008

Recently, I got the opportunity to pose a few questions to key people involved with open source efforts at Microsoft, including Sam Ramji (the recently promoted head of Microsoft's open source and Linux efforts), Ori Amiga (Microsoft Group Product Manager, Live Developer Platform), and Susan Hauser (General Manager of Strategic Partnerships and Licensing). They offered up some thought-provoking input on what open source needs, Novell, China, Live Mesh, and other topics. I thank them for taking the time, and please read on for their comments.

OStatic: Microsoft has, in the past, employed key open source development concepts such as modular architectures in its own products. Do you foresee more of this, including developing directly on top of existing open source platforms?

Sam Ramji, head of Microsoft's global open source and Linux team:

"Yes. Microsoft has learned from open source development principles and they are making their way into the mindset, development practices and products we deliver.
For instance, Windows Server 2008 was engineered with a new, modular architecture and built-for-purpose configurations. We’ve also worked hard to make Windows Server programming language agnostic - PHP on Windows Server is a great example of this."

"We are building interoperability with openwsman and wiseman into our development process for Microsoft’s WS-Management stack (found in System Center). We’ve built Windows HPC Server on open source code (the MPICH2 stack from Argonne National Laboratory) and contributed our enhancements back to the project. The most recent example of this, the agent infrastructure in System Center, is built to interoperate with UNIX and Linux by utilizing OpenPegasus, an open source project. As a result, open source has also helped extend our management solutions to Linux and UNIX environments."

"This is an exciting trend and I expect to see more of it over time, as our culture and practices shift. This has been confirmed publicly by Bob Muglia, the Senior VP of my division (the Server & Tools Business) – where we see opportunities to speed R&D and improve adoption we will assess using open source."

OStatic: What do you think is missing in the open source community as a whole? Better marketing for commercial efforts? Better compatibility?

Sam Ramji, head of Microsoft's global open source and Linux team:

"I think of open source as a set of diverse communities, not a single community. We can think of communities of practice like object-orientation (OO) or agile development in the singular, open source projects. And developers have a very broad range of practices (think across the different design, development, licensing, distribution, and user engagement models used today in the top 5000 open source projects). When we talk about an “open source community” I think of this as more like a movement towards transparency and the sharing of ideas, which is why we see the transfer across domains from software development into science, journalism and even politics."

"Clearly there are powerful core concepts of transparency and sharing at the heart of this movement. However, it’s starting to blur the original ideas articulated by Eric Raymond, Danese Cooper, et al, which are about the source code itself and the developers who share it. The risk is that the term itself loses meaning over time, which would be unfortunate as it’s a powerful idea. So one very important thing that’s missing in 'the community as a whole' is a common philosophy that is clear and broad enough to be embraced by everyone and allows some of the factional arguments to be settled peacefully."

"The other thing I think is missing is implementation of a basic principle of economic fairness. Thousands of developers have put very hard work into building software used by millions of people and companies, yet only a fraction of these developers are rewarded financially. Currently there are perfectly good projects that have been abandoned by their developers despite being used by large corporations. Subsequently the projects fall out of use. This is unnecessary waste that would often be prevented by making it easy for companies to pay the developers directly. I think it’s important to solve this so that the sustainability of open source projects is improved."

OStatic: Does Microsoft's recently announced Live Mesh platform have implications that the open source community ought to know about?

Ori Amiga, Microsoft Group Product Manager, Live Developer Platform:

"Microsoft had an explicit goal in designing the Live Mesh platform that it be as open and accessible as possible. We wanted to lower the barrier to entry for developers from any background to interact with the system. We emphasized using simple, text-based established standards wherever possible so that our system would be both observable (making it easy to watch other applications or transparently experiment with the system) and approachable from any development tool or environment. Our RESTful API and support of JSON, RSS and ATOM all help deliver on this goal." (Ori also cites this video discussion on how Live Mesh affects the open source community.)

OStatic: What goals do you have for Microsoft's interoperability alliance with Novell, and what's behind the goal of converting Linux users in the Chinese market to SUSE Linux Enterprise?

Susan Hauser, General Manager of Strategic Partnerships and Licensing at Microsoft:

"We entered into this agreement because based on customer feedback, we believed that there was an opportunity to grow our business by working together and to show leadership in the industry and the community in the following ways."

"Customers want their vendors to embrace interoperability. Microsoft and Novell collaborated – and continue to collaborate – on technical solutions for their shared customers to address critical interoperability technologies such as virtualization and web services. The sales of SUSE Linux support certificates and feedback we’ve received from those customers affirms that choice."

"Customers want their vendors to manage IP issues for them. Both companies recognize that Microsoft and Novell intellectual property is relevant to their respective products and will be increasingly relevant over time. This agreement has provided customers with confidence these issues have been addressed. We have provided customers with IP Peace of mind. In addition, by having reciprocal respect for IP, we are able to collaborate technically and deliver technical collaboration solutions that benefit our customers."

"Microsoft wants to continue reaching out to the open source community. Microsoft has begun participation in some important OSS projects and the non-compensated OSS community is being encouraged to experiment and grow through a broad covenant not-to-sue that benefits individual developers."

"There is a growing recognition among customers – in many countries including China - that there are significant costs to the business by running an operating system that is not supported by a commercial vendor. These costs include the staff time to do manual patches and bug fixes versus leveraging the seamless updates that are provided by Novell for SUSE Linux Enterprise as part of a support contract."

"In addition, companies are realizing that with limited budgets, it makes much more sense to use valuable IT staff on strategic projects that support the overall business than on manual tasks that are easily automated when a support contract is purchased."