Microsoft Platforms Chief Talks Co-opetition With Open Source

Bill Hilf, director of platform technology strategy at Microsoft, explains the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant's changing views on open source and its work with partners such as JBoss and Sugar CRM in an interview with Senior Writer Paula Rooney

CRN: Microsoft seems to be changing its tune on open-source software and is working with JBoss and SugarCRM. Will Microsoft support more open-source projects?

HILF: Yes. It's not so much of a change. If you take the open source out of the open-source world, it's standard practice for Microsoft to work with partners. We've worked with Oracle, SAP and other partners.

CRN: But in the past, Microsoft was critical of the open-source model. Why the shift?

HILF: It wasn't a big switch. It's part of the maturing of Microsoft. It's not about how people develop and license their software, or if they want to give their software away. We look at it from a pure opportunity standpoint.

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CRN: What has come out of Microsoft's work with JBoss?

HILF: The JBoss application server is now certified for SQL Server. That was announced [in February]. The first working version of the JBoss application server optimized for Windows will be announced at JBoss World.

CRN: What resources did you provide to JBoss and SugarCRM that others can't get?

HILF: We bring the technical team to Redmond to focus on technologies such as Active Directory and SQL Server. The work is mostly around principles, architecture and best practices. And they know which people [at Microsoft] to go to. It's less about special treatment than getting them connected to the right people.

CRN: Microsoft said it will support Linux guest operating systems on Virtual Server 2005 R2 and that it will give away that platform, like Xen, free of charge. But will Microsoft support Windows guest operating systems running on Xen?

HILF: It's such a good question and one most people haven't thought through. It gets sticky for the customer. There can't be some gray line. When we think about how we'll support it, we'll make a commercial best effort to resolve a customer problem. But if [the user] can't replicate the error in a nonvirtualized environment, then it's something with the virtualization engine. If it is a Red Hat operating system problem, that'll be a Red Hat support issue.

CRN: Has Microsoft engaged in any discussions with Red Hat or Novell about how to support guest operating systems on each other's virtualization platforms?

HILF: We've talked with both of them and invited them to our virtualization events, but we haven't established a hand-off policy.

CRN: How do you think customers should deal with the issue of getting support for guest operating systems on Xen?

HILF: It's going to be a gray area. If I were a partner, I'd think there's opportunity out there for someone to figure out what to do about this problem.

CRN: How does Microsoft explain its support of open source after years of dismissing it?

HILF: It might seem heretical we're doing that, and I had to work with Redmond on that. But we're not endorsing open source. JBoss is just a good partner. It's that classic co-opetition.

CRN: Is Microsoft going to form partnerships with other open-source projects or companies?

HILF: Yes, there is a group of others we're talking with. We're looking at open-source companies that matter in terms of volume. There are five, 10 or 20 open-source applications that are broadly interesting to most customers. There are thousands of open-source projects that are 'abandonware' or 'orphanware' that no one cares about.