Microsoft faces reality with open source outreach

Exec says “we won’t stop there” after announcing CentOS support

Making another stop on its "We Love Open Source" tour, Microsoft’s Sandy Gupta told attendees at an open source conference in San Francisco Monday that the company will, for the first time, support interoperability of its software with the non-commercial version of Linux -- interoperability had previously been limited to commercial Linux -- and specifically that Microsoft’s virtualization platform is now able to run CentOS, an open source operating system based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, “as a first-class citizen.”

Microsoft, which built its empire on proprietary software using vault-secured code, has had to face the reality that open source is here to stay. Attendees at the Open Source Business Conference that concludes today say that while they certainly don’t expect Microsoft to release the code for its most famous products, they are encouraged that Microsoft is coming to respect open source and all that it stands for.

“Microsoft has been very visible at these events so I applaud them for having people who are ... trying to create some bridge to the open source community,” said Danny Windham, CEO of Digium, which develops commercial and free versions of the Asterisk open source project for telecommunications applications such as office PBX systems and unified communications. “Certainly the Microsoft of old would not have been very friendly toward open source.”

Gupta is general manager of the open solutions group at Microsoft, which works with multiple vendors to improve interoperability with Microsoft. The move to embrace CentOS was driven by demand for support of the OS for use in virtualized and cloud environments.

“This need has been driven by our customers, especially [those] who happen to use CentOS in a very large significant way and, for us, we enable them to run private clouds and public clouds that can let them ... have a complete streamlining of their IT,” Gupta said.

At the conference, Microsoft’s Fabio Cunha demonstrated how Microsoft supports Windows Server2008 R2 Hyper-V to run CentOS and how Microsoft System Center can manage a combined Windows-Linux environment.

Microsoft hasn’t won over everyone in the open source community given comments to Gupta’s Sunday blog post on the subject. “You have a long long long way to go before catching up to VMware,” wrote one. “What changed? I've been having a hell of a time trying to get CentOS to work on Hyper-V,” complained another.

This leads me to believe that interoperability with Microsoft and open source is easier said than done and that some in the open source will have an "I'll believe it when I see it" attitude about the seemingly open source friendly folks from Redmond.

Still, it’s progress that Microsoft is seeing the light and acknowledging that open source has its advantages, said Erica Brescia, CEO of BitRock, which provides tools and services to open source developers for packaging, deploying and updating software. She thinks large commercial software vendors like Microsoft have come to realize that open source represents a flexible, modular approach to IT that customers want.

“A proprietary software company might build out this monolithic product and it can be much more difficult for people to implement and also to extend and to modify over time,” Brescia said. “With open source, because of the fact that they want to build a community, they are forced to build a more flexible and modular product and that itself is a benefit to end users above and beyond the fact that it’s open source.”

Support for CentOS was a “must have step for us,” Gupta said, “but we obviously won’t stop there. We need to look at other community distributions which are out there.”

It’ll be interesting to see what other distributions Microsoft will support and how well it will really support them.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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