Microsoft and open-source backers: best 'frenemies' forever

License approvals, patent claims characterize complicated relationship between two sides

But Adam Solesby, chief technology officer and co-founder of StudioNow, a Nashville-based start-up that is developing a Web-based video editing service for consumers and small businesses, said he isn't worried that Microsoft will go after companies like his.

The specter of the software vendor suing users "is not a realistic threat," he said. "I think we're fairly safe from that." Solesby is a longtime Microsoft customer whose new company uses a MySQL database running on top of a homegrown version of Linux. But, he noted, he chose those technologies for cost and productivity reasons -- not because he has "converted" to open-source philosophically.

Ballmer's description of Linux as a cancer was made in a 2001 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times -- although he also described the open-source operating system as "good competition" that would force Microsoft to innovate and justify what it charges for its software.

In contrast to the cancer remark, Ballmer's new comments about buying open-source vendors "set the right tone," blogged Matt Asay, an OSI board member and vice president of business development at Alfresco Software Inc., a developer of open-source content management software.

Now, Asay added in his posting, the software maker "just needs to behave in such a way that open-source companies won't blanch at the thought of being acquired by Microsoft."

In a blog posting that announced the OSI's approval of Microsoft's so-called shared-source licenses, Michael Tiemann, the open-source group's president, said that the software vendor had submitted the licenses under the same policies and procedures that other parties have used.

"Microsoft didn't ask for special treatment, and didn't receive any," wrote Tiemann, who also is vice president of open-source affairs at Red Hat Inc. "In spite of recent negative interactions between Microsoft and the open-source community, the spirit of the dialogue was constructive."

Redwood City, Calif.-based OSI received nearly 400 e-mails when Microsoft first announced in late July that it planned to seek open-source certification of its licenses. But since the OSI approved the licenses, it has received "surprisingly few" messages, Tiemann said via e-mail this week.

In keeping with the nature of the relationship between Microsoft and the open-source community, the e-mails sent thus far have all been against the decision, Tiemann added.

That "was not a surprise," he wrote. "Most of the folks who agreed with our decision to approve the licenses were not huge fans of Microsoft, and thus there was little for them to celebrate when their expectations of a fair process yielded a fair result."

In a statement about the OSI's decision, Bill Hilf, general manager of Windows Server marketing and platform strategy at the software vendor, said the license approvals were "a significant milestone in the progression of Microsoft's open-source strategy and the company's ongoing commitment to participation in the open-source community." Microsoft said Hilf was on vacation this week and unavailable for a follow-up interview.

"Microsoft appears to have accepted that Linux -- on servers and devices at least, if not the desktop -- cannot be completely stopped," said Daniel Egger, CEO of Open Source Risk Management, a consulting firm.

The software vendor also seems to have recognized that enterprise users are demanding "some form of co-existence between Microsoft products and open-source," Egger added.

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