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Microsoft doesn't have a single official who oversees all of its open source initiatives (unless you count CEO Ballmer). "Microsoft's open source initiative is a shared responsibility across the organization, and more than 150 people across the company play a critical role in strengthening collaboration efforts among the open source community," a Microsoft spokesperson says.
But Microsoft has multiple projects that embrace open source and a dedicated Web site detailing its open source projects and goals.
On the virtualization front, Microsoft has clashed with VMware, the maker of proprietary virtualization software, but partnered with Citrix, which sells technology based on the Xen open source hypervisor.
Paoli notes several initiatives that illustrate Microsoft's commitment to open source and open standards. Microsoft helped create OData, the Open Data Protocol, which uses Web technologies to "free" data from applications that might otherwise lock it up. Microsoft also recently expanded the CodePlex Foundation to encourage development of open source.
Microsoft's Windows Azure team has also provided software development kits for developers who use PHP and Java, not just for its own proprietary .NET Framework.
In the end, Microsoft's embrace of open source principles will only go so far. It's highly unlikely that Windows will ever become an open source operating system. Microsoft is making targeted moves that bolster its open source reputation in response to real market demands. If Microsoft continued to shun open source completely, it would have lost existing customers and potentially new opportunities for growth.
In a time when Microsoft is no longer the world's most valuable tech company -- that title, measured by stock performance, is now held by Apple -- Steve Ballmer can't afford to ignore a market force as large as the one posed by open source.
Interoperability among many technologies, which often involves integration with open source software, is what customers are demanding, Paoli says. Those demands will only grow more strong because of the proliferation of cloud computing and the vendor lock-in concerns cloud computing has created and amplified.
"We know that organizations are running a mixed IT environment," Paoli says. "They all have Windows and Linux and IBM. They all told us that connectivity, interoperability are key, and flexibility, to choose what want to use and when they want to use it."
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Read more about software in Network World's Software section.