Microsoft and the Open Source Movement

May 10, 2012

Open Source MicrosoftToday, open source software is widely used, and it is easy to forget that there was a time, not so very long ago, when the open source concept was viewed to be radical and a serious threat to the commercial computer software industry, which was based on a closed, proprietary licensing model.

The commercial software industry developed and prospered using a distribution model which authorized customers to use the software, but not to modify, customize, or enhance the underlying source code.

No company provided a clearer representation of the traditional software licensing model than Microsoft. 

In the early years of the open source movement, Microsoft was one of the key leaders of the open source opponents, and the company treated Linux and other emerging open source software as an existential threat to commercial software.

Given that history, Microsoft’s recent announcement that it has established a subsidiary to focus entirely on open source software development illustrates the extent to which open source has become an established and widely embraced intellectual property management model.

Microsoft’s new subsidiary, Microsoft Open Technologies Inc., is intended to formalize the connection between Microsoft’s core proprietary software operations and the rapidly expanding open source world. 

The subsidiary will help to manage the development and distribution of Microsoft’s open source products.  It will facilitate Microsoft’s contributions to the leading open source software products, including software such as Hadoop and Linux.

Microsoft Open will also assist customers to integrate open source and proprietary code products together for operational effectiveness and licensing compliance.

As open source code has become widely integrated with proprietary code, the challenge of ensuring that both open source and proprietary license terms are met when the two types of code are co-mingled is now often quite complex. 

Microsoft Open will help customers to navigate that process.

Microsoft has important reasons for expanding its involvement in the open source environment.

Open source code is widely used in key sectors such as Web content development and mobile software applications.

In order to enhance its influence in those key fields, Microsoft must be an active open source player.

A significant open source presence is also required if Microsoft is to remain attractive and interesting to new generations of software developers who have fully embraced the open source philosophy.

Launch of Microsoft Open Technologies is an important acknowledgment by one of the leaders of the proprietary software world.

It signals recognition that the open source movement has become an established and vital player in commercial software. 

Perhaps the most notable indication of the widespread acceptance of open source is the fact that Microsoft’s next generation operating system, Windows 8, is reportedly being developed using open source tools.

No longer viewed as a threat to commercial software that must be resisted, open source is now seen to be an indispensable component of software development that can enhance and extend software applications.