Is Microsoft becoming an open source advocate?

Microsoft has been showing some signs of warming to the open source world lately.

People can change. And, as companies are made up of collections of people, so too can companies.

I try to keep that in mind as I read through Microsoft's official response (which links to a Word document) to the U.K. government's proposal to standardize the Open Document Format. Surprise, surprise - Microsoft is opposed to it.

The arguments for and against standardizing on the ODF are pretty simple. They’re best summed up, I think, by the following direct quotes.

From the U.K. Cabinet Office Standards Hub: "Governments achieve lowest operational costs and most flexibility when they embrace a small number of popular and widely supported open standard formats."

From Microsoft's Area Vice President (United Kingdom), Michel Van der Bel: "Mandating one open standard for discrete document formats over another completely ignores benefits enabled by a choice of modern formats and is therefore likely to increase, not decrease, costs."

Yes. You just read Microsoft making the case that computer users need to have choice, and that anything offering less than the option for multiple open file formats is a bad thing. This makes me feel like I'm in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

The thing is, Microsoft isn't wrong here. But neither is the U.K. Standards Hub. My own preferences aside (I'm a bit advocate of using the ODF), standardizing on one file format (even one that is an Open Standard) has both benefits and disadvantages. And both sides lay them out quite well. (You can read Microsoft's response to every point in this Word document.)

If I'm being truly honest, my first inclination is to dismiss Microsoft's argument based on its past track record, and the fact that if the UK government was proposing a standardization on MS Office formats, I truly don't believe Microsoft would be objecting (even though it wouldn't meet its stated ideal of having “multiple open formats” that we just read about). But then I read something else that gave me a bit of pause...

This blog post – "Microsoft killed my Pappy" – from Scott Hanselman, a program manager at Microsoft. I'm going to go ahead and quote the lines that grabbed me.

"We're putting source on GitHub, many groups are using Git with TFS internally for projects, we've open sourced (not just source-opened) huge parts of .NET and are still pushing. We've open sourced Azure hardware specs, opening SDKs, and we're making systems more pluggable than ever. Frankly, we're bending over backwards to NOT be dicks about stuff."

"Is Microsoft circa 2014 worse than Google, Apple, or Facebook? We're not nearly as organized as we'd need to be to be as evil as you might think we are."

"At some point you let go, and you start again with fresh eyes."

It should be noted that a lot of the Open Sourcing that Hanselman talked about happening at Microsoft happened in the organization run by Satya Nadella, who is now the CEO of the whole darn company.

So, where does that leave us? The new guy at the helm has a track record of at least enabling open source within his team. And multiple Microsoft employees are being vocal about both open source and choice among open standards.

Again. Twilight Zone.

Is it, as Hanselman said, time to “start again with fresh eyes” when it comes to Microsoft? That's something many (most) within the Open Source and Linux worlds are probably just not ready to do.

But... what if Microsoft can continue to increase its adoption of, and advocacy for, Open Source and Open Standards? At what point do we, in the Linux/Open Source worlds, let go?

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