Yahoo is the Reason for Microsoft's New Open Source Stance

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 27, 2008

It's not every day that a Microsoft executive as highly placed as senior vice president, corporate secretary and general counsel Brad Smith shows up at an open source conference, but he made an appearance at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco this week. I enjoyed the title of InfoWorld's summary of his visit: Microsot's Brad Smith Tries to Make Nice with Open Source Community.

Making nice was probably part of his motivation, but there's more to it than that. As Mike noted, Microsoft made some significant announcements this week about helping to develop the Apache POI project. Especially after being slapped with a huge fine from the EU, Microsoft needs to take concrete steps to work more closely with the open source community. Also, what people keep missing is how Microsoft's proposed Yahoo deal would force it to embrace open source.

Microsoft has shown no signs of backing down on its proposed Yahoo deal, and all signs point to it attempting to acquire Yahoo in hostile fashion. The company is likely to succeed in that effort, because scrutiny from the EU and the Justice Department will be tempered by the simple fact that Google is by far the biggest player in search-related online advertising--not Microsoft. Let's not forget that Microsoft's proposed deal would be its biggest acquisition ever.

As I've pointed out before, Yahoo's entire site runs on FreeBSD and many of its applications have open source plumbing and open APIs. Just today, Yahoo announced that it is joining Google's open source alliance.

Yahoo has embraced open source within its own applications to the extent that if Microsoft is serious about Yahoo, it will be forced to be much more open. While Hotmail was once based on open source and Microsoft acquired it and rewired it as a Windows-based offering, it would be a huge hairball for the company to attempt to do so with Yahoo. No, Microsoft would have to coexist in a friendly way with open source software under its own roof.

In his appearance at OSBC, Brad Smith noted: "We live on both sides of the patent fence. We have more patent suits filed against us than any other company. We spend more money defending ourselves than any other company." He also brought up the $900 million agreement that Microsoft paid to Sun Microsystems to end patent disputes.

With its acquisition of Yahoo a near certainty, the sting of a $1 billion-plus fine from the EU, and a string of announced open source initiatives in the past month, Microsoft is showing signs of change toward the open source arena. Do you think it's all just smoke and mirrors?