Doing his best impersonation of a fox in the chicken coop who means no harm to the chickens, Microsoft's Stuart McKee spoke at an open source conference in San Francisco today delivering a message of peace.
"We all agree we've had a contentious relationship in the past, but that is really changing," said McKee, National Technology Officer for Microsoft in the U.S., who delivers technology solutions to state and local governments. He told his audience at the Open Source Business Conference that the company that built an empire on the closed software model realizes there's a whole big world of open source software out there and it wants both worlds to work together.
The conference was hosted by Computerworld, which, like Network World, is published by IDG.
McKee cited considerable evidence that open source and Microsoft already get along pretty well.
Today, there are 180 companies operating that build PHP applications that run on Windows, as well as 500 companies building Java and Linux apps, 100 building MySQL apps as well as others building Python and Ruby apps, he said. In the entire open source universe, there are about 350,000 open source apps that can run on Windows.
McKee cited research from IDC, also an IDG company, that for every $1 Microsoft earns selling its software, the "local ecosystem" surrounding Microsoft earns $6.82 and a growing percentage of that amount is earned by open source players.
Microsoft is embracing open source software it had fought for so many years because it accepts that Microsoft doesn't have all the answers, he said.
"It's not that we're altruistic, necessarily, but our key desire is to satisfy customers. We build software for a living ... and we understand profoundly that a diverse ecosystem is absolutely critical to satisfy the needs of our customers and, increasingly, that ecosystem does include open source," McKee said.
In his position, he helps state and local governments improve the delivery of services to constituents. Before joining Microsoft, he was CIO of the State of Washington and undertook an open source project to improve the state's Amber Alert system for warning the public about missing children.
In Miami, the city improved its 3-1-1 system for non-emergency reporting to the police or the city about issues like a pothole in the street, dumped garbage or stray animals. The city had put a log of reports in an online spreadsheet, but that wasn't much help to the public. The city improved the site with a map of the city with graphical "push pins" to note the location of each report. Click on a push pin and a pop-up window describes the report and whether it's been addressed. A handful of Miami employees wrote the program in a few days using open source MySQL running on Microsoft's Windows Azure, its cloud computing operating system.
So, should the Microsoft fox be trusted in the open source chicken coop?
"The fact that Microsoft and SAP and Oracle are now in open source validates the space," said Dennis Lyandres, a business development person at Pentaho, an open source business intelligence software vendor.
BitRock provides tools and services to open source developers for packaging, deploying and updating software. It also operates the BitNami.org Web site whose aim is to simplify the deployment of open source Web applications and offers a BitNami Stack that helps bundle applications with necessary components such as for a Web server or database. Although BitRock helps deploy apps on Linux, Mac OS X and Solaris OSes, 60 percent of apps on BitNami run on Windows, said Erica Brescia, BitRock's CEO.
"Microsoft has come a long way, but they still have a long way to go," said Brescia.
What Microsoft needs to improve, she said, is its transparency. She is concerned about how Microsoft engages with smaller open source companies, holding their cards close to their vest, which can raise suspicions.
Still, Microsoft can't afford to resist the open source movement any more than it can resist cloud computing and keep trying to sell software licenses to individual businesses. The open source software movement has spurred innovation and created wealth for thousands of companies and it's a reality Microsoft seems to be coming around to accepting.
Robert Mullins is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. He has been writing about technology from Silicon Valley for more than a decade. He has covered such beats as network security, servers, storage, software development, telecommunications and, of course, Microsoft, for a variety of publications, most notably the IDG News Service and Network World.