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Why Microsoft is wary of open source?

Ray Bailey, information services manager at The Bergquist Company, said a recent meeting with Microsoft changed the technology direction of his company, which manufactures electronic components and other goods.

“Our IS team agreed that, due to Microsoft’s changing of the licensing rules and the manner in which they have given us less-than-adequate time to process those changes, we are seriously looking at other platforms,” he said. “Linux is a strong contender for our next server because of the low-cost nature of the licensing.”

Internally, Microsoft seems somewhat torn on how to approach the open-source movement. While the company denounces the move toward free software, it does recognize at least some of the value of open-source development.

“Microsoft views open source as a competitor, but it’s hard to treat it as a competitor,” Gartner’s Smith said. “So they have to attack basic tenets, mentality, way of life and thought processes.”

Since last year, Microsoft has made available to hundreds of its larger customers copies of its closely guarded Windows source code. The company hopes its best customers can help it improve Windows.

Microsoft has been touting plans to broaden Windows source-code access to business partners in an initiative it calls its “shared-source philosophy.”

In particular, Microsoft wants to emulate the spirit of cooperation that has spawned groups of volunteer Linux programmers. “Having a sense of community is a good thing. It’s one thing we’ve watched with interest,” Craig Mundie, Senior Vice President of Advanced Strategies at Microsoft, said in a recent interview. “The more of that we can foster in our community, the better.”

Building a better community

Microsoft hopes to imbue its programmer network with some of this community spirit, Mundie said. “The Microsoft Developer Network hasn’t been one where there was a lot of dialogue between (developers) and with Microsoft developers.”

Though Microsoft will be expanding how it engages directly with those who see its source code, the company isn’t going to extend the right granted to many members of the open-source community--the power to change the software. People may submit bug fixes, but “customers aren’t trying to buy the rights to produce derivatives,” Mundie said. “In general, we’re going to control that reintegration. We worry a lot about uniformity and avoiding fragmentation.”