Is Interoperability The Right Microsoft Open Source Strategy?

Win over the PHP open source community. Get PHP developers to put their apps on Windows and Microsoft technologies rather than open source software options on Linux. That's what Microsoft would love to do. The BHAG (big hairy "audacious" goal) would be to achieve a transformation from LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP), the dominant web app platform de-facto standard, to a new Microsoft model, WISP (Windows, IIS, SQL Server and PHP). But the distance between passionate open source users and Microsoft is as wide as the chasm between Starfleet Federation and the Romulans. (I always love it when I can get at least one sci-fi reference, especially a Star Trek reference, in a blog post.)

Microsoft's been employing the nice guy approach; "We may be Romulans, but we're nice Romulans and we just want to interoperate. Your open source would go well with our Romulan ale." (Okay, that's two.) The Microsoft olive branch to the open source world is the Open Source Technology Center, or OSTC. Near the end of last year it seems the chatter about Microsoft and PHP began increasing again, and earlier in May an OSTC member began dialoging with members on the PHPfreaks forums.

Microsoft is working to improve the interface libraries between PHP and technologies like SQL Server and IIS, addressing issues and difficulties PHP developers encounter. Earlier this week Microsoft announced PHPAzure, an Azure SDK for PHP. There's a very specific (one of the most specific I've seen from Microsoft) schedule and line item list of features for PHPAzure starting with today's technology preview release, with two more feature releases at the end of July and August. Maybe embracing PHP on the Azure platform was inevitable, maybe it was just a smart move. The question is, will interoperability with open source PHP make enough of a difference to matter.

The problem with just relying on interoperability between Microsoft and open source technologies is it really only addresses one aspect of a pretty daunting challenge. The Microsoft interoperability strategy is about making it easier for PHP developers who bump up against or may even need to run their software on Microsoft technologies. It's the plug your nose and take a bite approach. We'll minimize the unpleasantness (barriers) as much as possible. The hopes are removing the barriers creates opportunities for PHP'ers to grow accustomed to and begin to use Microsoft technologies.

That seems to me to be an effort thats far from resulting in winning over droves of PHP developers and applications. Open source advocates are so because they believe in the open source model, and revel in its freedom from Microsoft. Many work with open source technologies for the mere fact that it's not Microsoft. Even mighty Sun (well, mighty at the time) had to begin bringing Java into more of an open source model. Until Microsoft makes some bold move, like open sourcing some of Microsoft's technologies, Microsoft will be seen as clumsy, ingenious, only bumping up against open source not embracing it.

Microsoft's challenge is what technology could they relicense as open source, and the revenue stream that goes along with it, would make a credible enough impact to win over even a small portion of the open source community. Interoperability is the price to play, but not the winning strategy.

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