Microsoft exec broaches open source paradigm

Like a Roman Catholic speaking to an audience of Protestant evangelicals, a Microsoft representative at the Open Source Business Conference Wednesday focused on similarities between traditional commercial projects and open source ventures, rather than cite sharp differences.

Recognizing that some see Microsoft as anathema to open source, Microsoft's Jason Matusow, director of the company's Shared Source initiative, nonetheless said that companies building a business around open source operate in the same manner as commercial, proprietary vendors.

"To me, the most compelling factor about the open source discussion for the past four years is the trend toward commercialization," Matusow said. Commercial vendors such as IBM and Red Hat are contributing to the Linux kernel, for example, he said. HP's Linux strategy is about self-interest as well, Matusow said.

"They're pretty sure they want to see an HP printer attached there," to a Linux system, Matusow said.

Noting that Microsoft is often cited as trying to lock in customers to its technologies, Matusow said customers are just as much on a certain technology path if they choose Red Hat.

Vendors have released complementary assets to open source but not core assets, which generate revenues, Matusow said. Microsoft, for its part, has released its older Template Libraries technology to the community at large, he noted.

Traditional and open source providers all must be concerned with issues such as backward compatibility and product road maps, Matusow said.

"I reject the idea that the open source business vendors don't want to make the second sale," he said. Customers, meanwhile, want value for their money regardless of the provider's business model, according to Matusow.

Playing down the issue of license fees charged by commercial proprietary software vendors, Matusow said that integration is an expensive issue for customers, costing more than licensing fees.

Matusow also questioned the value of offering source code to customers. Microsoft has made source code for Windows and Office 2003 available for viewing by some 40 government agencies, but only a few have bothered to even look at the code, he said.

Open source is fundamentally a product competition, Matusow said. Red Hat and Suse compete, for example. But he applauded the increased community involvement afforded by open source.

The Shared Source initiative allows customers in some instances to look at Microsoft source code. Matusow said Microsoft is considering adding technologies in areas such as development tools to the Shared Source program.

He noted Microsoft has made the Windows Installer XML toolset available under a public license.

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