The progress of Microsoft towards acceptance into the open source community continues. The Azure team is definitely a force for good in the company, constantly pushing Microsoft’s developer teams to understand how important the Linux platform and open source developer components and tools are to the success of Microsoft’s cloud business. After the partnership with Red Hat, the news they will release SQL Server for Linux, while not surprising to me, was very interesting, as was the news they are joining Eclipse.
I went to the Microsoft press release page looking for the news about Linux support for SQL Server and joining Eclipse. Much to my surprise, there was nothing there. But there was something else; a press release celebrating the signing of another Linux user into Microsoft’s patent licensing regime and another celebrating an Android patent win. Nothing about SQL Server, Eclipse or any other positive open source engagement.
I’ll set aside the issues of the validity of software patents, or of the applicability of Microsoft’s portfolio of them to Linux, although both have real and significant issues. The surprise arises from my own experiences at Sun.
When you claim to be joining a community, you have to start treating the members of that community collegially. Continuing antagonisms is not OK. While we were working hard to align Sun’s software business with the open source community in their early days, I discovered that our OEM business was contemplating a business partnership that would have been very, very harmful to Sun’s reputation in open source. It took a lot of internal discussion, as well as an intervention by the CEO, but the deal was cancelled because of the harm it would do to Sun’s acceptance by developers and others in open source.
The frequency of issues like this decreased as Sun got more and more committed to open source, but as chief open source officer I was aware that you couldn’t expect respect in the open source community if you kept attacking its members, no matter how much good you did elsewhere. I spent a lot of time spotting issues before they became a problem and fixing them, including meetings with critics to understand their criticisms. We even started an Ombudsman programme to formalise this.
Open source depends for its success on having guarantees in advance: that users and developers may freely use, improve, and share the software involved. It’s antithetical to open source for those engaged in it to seek permission (and payment) from users or developers on top of the rights delivered through an OSI-approved copyright license. Whether they are within their rights or not, Microsoft can’t expect to carry on patent shakedowns and also be respected as an open source peer.
So my surprise was from the disconnect. I believe Microsoft’s cloud team really does want Microsoft to join the open source community, and that they have air cover from their CEO to make it so. How, then, did they allow this almighty disconnect to happen?
That’s why I’ve written in InfoWorld a call for Microsoft to join OIN. Please join me in answering every Microsoft announcement related to open source with “But have they joined OIN yet?” until they do.