Observations from OSCON and Linux World Expo

by hanrahat on August 23, 2007 04:02pm

I’ve been a regular attendee of the O’Reilly Open Source Conference in Portland and Linux World Expo – San Francisco for several years, but this is the first time I represented Microsoft at them.  Between the two conferences, I met a lot of people with whom I’ve worked for many years.  I appreciate the encouraging words I received from many of them and I respect the concerns others expressed regarding my decision to join Microsoft.   A lot of our conversations were about what I thought I could accomplish by making the change.

One observation I’ve made while working with companies involved in open source is that every one of them wrestles with the balance of working within the community for the better good and reserving value for their own need to compete successfully for business.   There are few, if any, companies that are purely open-source directed.  There are also few that are purely proprietary.  Microsoft is in the spectrum of balance between proprietary and open source just like everyone else. 

Clearly Microsoft’s balance tends toward the proprietary, but we demonstrated at both conferences that we take participation as a member of the open source community seriously and announced several significant actions.  One of these announcements was that Microsoft is submitting both its permissive (MSPL) and community (MSCL) licenses to OSI for certification.  Another was John Lam’s announcement of release of Iron Ruby and Iron Python as open source projects and that these are both open to community contributions.   Both of these efforts reflect serious attempts by Microsoft to participate in the development of truly open source software.

What’s also interesting is that the role of individual developers is changing, too.  In his presentation at OSCON, “Current State of the Linux Kernel,” Greg Kroah-Hartman made the point that the largest group of contributors to the kernel is composed of “Unknown Individuals” who have no affiliation to a company with respect to their contributions.   Roughly 18% of contributions come from this group, and 13% come from another group called “Amateurs.”  But, a member of the audience pointed out that this means the work of nearly 70% of contributors is being sponsored by industry.  Of those 70% few are employed to be purely open-source contributors; most have responsibilities to their individual companies to ensure that some value is retained for their own business purposes.

We’re all finding our balance, companies and individuals alike, and that balance is rarely stationary.  It frequently changes as we assess our roles in the software development industry.  One of the things I want to accomplish is to find ways that Microsoft can adopt open source methodologies and can contribute to the greater good.  Two areas I will concentrate on for now are interoperability, through the work we’re beginning with Novell in the areas of virtualization and web services management, and engagement with the SAMBA community to help ensure the quality of interaction between SAMBA and Microsoft products. I hope to attend the CIFS Workshop at Google next month to see where Microsoft can work with the SAMBA community beyond our current level of sharing bug and test data.

One of the first activities I engaged in when I joined Microsoft was to help draft the mission of Microsoft’s Open Source Software Lab.  Here in a nutshell is what I hope to accomplish at Microsoft.

Produce mutual respect and understanding between Microsoft and the Open Source community such that both act responsibly together for the sake of better software and human potential & inclusion.

I invite those of you I have worked with over the years and all of you I spoke with at OSCON and LWE to make this our common goal and to join me in the effort.

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