Microsoft at 30

The software giant recently turned 30. Wouldn’t it be great if the company acted like an adult and embraced Open Source?
On September 23, 2005, Microsoft’s turned 30. Whatever your feelings are about the empire in Redmond, the birthday is an important milestone in the history of the company that arguably changed the face of the computer industry.
According to Hallmark, makers of fine greeting cards, 30th birthdays today are more significant than the traditional 40th, at least for human beings. In the modern day, your twenties are considered to be more of a prolonged adolescence — certain behaviors are considered to be acceptable, such as moving back home with your parents after college and before getting hitched, and staying out all night with your rowdy friends drinking after work. Turning 30 represents your passage into adulthood, a time to act “grown up.” It’s that jump to the Big Three-Zero that makes you realize that you finally have to settle down and get your proverbial shit together.
It’s good that Microsoft is settling down into adulthood. Perhaps as a result, the company will mellow out and their senior executives will stop throwing chairs at people and cease threatening to kill their competitors, a la Tony Soprano. (But I digress.)
A side effect of becoming an adult is that Microsoft is perhaps learning that there’s a distinct benefit to having a positive relationship with the Open Source community, instead of the company’s traditional position of publicly declaring Open Source a cancer and launching vitriolic propaganda campaigns to brainwas customers and partners.
For the last several months, we’ve seen indications that there’s more then just a spark of interest in directly engaging the community coming out of those white buildings on One Microsoft Way. There have been power lunches between Linux companies and Microsoft executives[ see “Opening Windows” online at http://www.linux-mag.com/2005-10/microsoft.html], overtures to hire some of the top people engaged in Open Source advocacy (such as Eric Raymond, who graciously replied to Microsoft’s kind offer of employment by saying he’d look forward to urinating on Microsoft’s grave when the revolution comes) and recent announcements of partnerships with Open Source companies like JBOSS. This is a good thing. It’s all good.
So one could say that at thirty years old, Microsoft is now an adult. The company is done with its crazy years of having various flings with different operating system technologies, starting off with DOS, XENIX, OS/2, and then NT, and finally settling down with Windows 2000 and Active Directory. Seemingly, everything planned to come out of the software giant is simply a refinement of stuff brought forth in the 1990s, with lots of new bells and whistles. I certainly don’t believe that re-inventing the wheel for re-invention sake is necessarily the best policy. If a technology is fundamentally good, then there’s no reason to make sweeping changes to it.
Despite my oh-so-apparent evangelism of the benefits of Linux and Open Source, I actually like Windows and Microsoft’s technology — after all, I spent ten years of my professional life integrating Redmondware in IT environments at Fortune 500 companies, and I know that when properly tuned, it’s a great platform. Casa Perlow is the house that Microsoft built. That being said, I think that Windows can get better. A lot better.
I’ve gone on record in other publications saying that Microsoft should Open Source the core of the Windows operating system for a number of reasons. If I may quote Microsoft’s own chief executive, “Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers” is one substantial reason, and security, reliability, and better performance improvements are three others. Now that Windows 2000 has recently reached end-of-life and with Vista on the horizon for 2007, I think that much could be gained if future versions of Windows incorporated Open Source content or community participation, especially as many IT shops are now at a crossroads, determining whether their next migration will be to Linux or to a future version of Windows.
I said it when NT was put out to pasture, and I’m going to say it again: Windows Server should be open sourced. If Microsoft were to take this giant step, it would be great for them and it would be great for their customers. It would be great for everybody, period, but particularly good for Microsoft, because their developer and solutions provider ecosystem would include the Open Source community as active participants and not as outsiders with no support mechanism on that platform, as they function now.
We’d also be able able to demonstrate the ultimate truth that Open Source and commercial software, as well as Windows and Linux, can really live hand-in-hand with each other, just like they do now in everyday, real heterogeneous environments, except that the industry would validate it as such and embrace Microsoft’s entrance to the open world.
And that would be a 30th birthday present we’d all be happy to get.

Jason Perlow is a longtime contributor and columnist for Linux Magazine. Jason can be reached at class="emailaddress">jperlow@linux-mag.com. You can find Eric S. Raymond’s full response to Microsoft in his blog at http://esr.ibiblio.org/index.208.html.

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