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Ballmer is still CEO of Microsoft, but that comment occurred in 2001, a lifetime ago in the technology market. While Microsoft hasn't formally rescinded its declaration that Linux violates its patents, at least one Microsoft executive admits that the company’s earlier battle stance was a mistake. Microsoft wants the world to understand, whatever its issues with Linux, it no longer has any gripe toward open source.
In 2010 Microsoft is trying hard not to be public enemy No. 1 to open source proponents, in some cases by making key contributions to open source code and in other cases by making Microsoft products interoperable with open source software.
"We love open source," says Jean Paoli of Microsoft in a recent interview with Network World. "We have worked with open source for a long time now."
The mistake of equating all open source technology with Linux was "really very early on," Paoli says. "That was really a long time ago," he says. "We understand our mistake."
Paoli is the general manager of Microsoft's interoperability strategy team, which touches on some open source issues. A Microsoft veteran of 14 years, Paoli is also the co-creator of the XML specification.
Paoli's recent work involves a new Microsoft initiative to promote interoperability among the key components of cloud networks. The initiative, described in July at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, is attempting to promote data portability; use of standards-based technologies; ease of migration and deployment across cloud networks; and developer choice.
The initiative isn't strictly an open source project but it does illustrate Microsoft’s evolving relationship with open technologies.Microsoft seems to be making a concerted effort to befriend portions of the open source community, and the company could benefit in the public relations game from unpopular moves by Oracle, which is ending the OpenSolaris project and suing Google over use of open source Java in Android.
There are still critics of Microsoft's attitude toward open source, and Microsoft gave itself a black eye in 2007 by claiming that Linux and other open source software violate a whopping 235 Microsoft patents. And in 2008, Bill Gates reportedly claimed that open source licenses ensure "that nobody can ever improve the software."
But Paoli says Microsoft recognizes that its customers use a mix of proprietary and open source technologies.
Microsoft has released some technology under its own open source license (the "Microsoft Public License"), such as IronRuby, which integrates .Net code with the Ruby programming language.