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Sam Ramji: Cloud makes open source 'inevitable' for Microsoft, others

While some pundits predict cloud computing could kill open source movement, Microsoft's former free software advocate sees it differently

By , Network World
October 10, 2011 11:01 AM ET
Sam Ramji

Network World - It could be that Sam Ramji is just an eternal optimist. While many free software advocates warn that the cloud could kill open source, because users won't have access to the source code, Ramji disagrees. He says that work is going on now to eliminate the legal liabilities of contributing to open source. Once that's done, Microsoft and other proprietary software vendors (Apple, Oracle, etc.) who exhibit a love-hate relationship with free software will be forced to use open source to build their own clouds. This will lead them to eventually adopt it for other wares, contributing and sharing like good community members.

MORE: Linux Foundation chief: 'You are an idiot' if you don't give back to open source

"You can't compete with all the developers who are writing new technologies for the cloud, for the infrastructure level and for the platforms and framework level," says Ramji, best known as Microsoft's first in-house open source advocate, a position he left two years ago. Ramji is now vice president of strategy at startup Apigee, a maker of API products for developers. Many of the products are free, such as the new OAuth tool released last month.

The cloud will lead to an eventual open source love fest because the software business will no longer be "about shipping a software license, but about providing a service," which makes the reasons for fighting open source vanish, Ramji says. Open source usage by proprietary vendors will "be inevitable over the next couple of years" because open source is a faster, more productive method of software development, he says.

"Being able to take it, use it and contribute back and to clearly see how this contracts their R&D life cycle" will offer clear advantages over a built-it-here mentality, Ramji says. "At a legal and business level, it just won't matter. They'll be able to contribute back without concern about damage to the business," he says.

Ramji remains on the board of the Outercurve Foundation (formerly Codeplex), an open source advocacy group founded, and still largely funded by, Microsoft, although its board includes members from Red Hat, SugarCRM, SAP and others. Plus he is one of 10 founding members of a new cloud consortium called the Open Cloud Initiative, launched in July.

He already sees the change happening at Microsoft. "If you look at who's working at Azure these days, it's a bunch of people who are very close to open source, from Satya Nadella as president (who came over the from the search division and has obviously worked with a lot of open technology) to people like Bill Hilf, responsible for product management for Azure. He was the leader for Linux emerging markets at IBM and then open source at Microsoft."

Still, Microsoft as well as Oracle, Apple and others aren't fully behaving like they've seen the open source light, particularly in regard to Android. Microsoft is busy signing up as many Android device makers into patent protection licensing schemes as it can. The latest count on that is eight, and Microsoft is suing Barnes & Noble over its Android Nook. Apple is trying to keep Samsung from shipping its Galaxy Tab in Europe and elsewhere. Oracle is suing Google over its alleged use of Java in Android.

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