Ignorance (of open source), thy name is Microsoft

Microsoft wants open source to be non-threatening. Good luck.

Oh, my. We're back to the good old days of Microsoft mythology. I had actually believed that Microsoft had grown up and wised up.

But no. Microsoft's Clint Patterson, public relations director for the Unified Communications Group, had this treasure trove of open-source "wisdom," circa 1998, to share with CNET's Stephen Shankland :

"The open-source development model has yet to demonstrate the ability to support profitable software businesses that can drive the coordinated research and testing necessary to sustain innovation. Many in the open-source software community have shifted to hybrid business models. They are making the same business decisions as any commercial software company in terms of what products and services to give away, what intellectual property to protect, how to generate revenue, and how to participate in the community."

This would all be true if it weren't false.

But, alas, it is. False. Let's take each comment in turn:

The open-source development model has yet to demonstrate the ability to support profitable software businesses that can drive the coordinated research and testing necessary to sustain innovation

While it's true that open source has not proven this en masse, it's equally true true of Microsoft. Microsoft has proved its ability to make lots of money...but not any related ability to invest that cash in meaningful innovation, much less sustain its existing products with "innovation." When was the last time you saw innovation rear its head in Exchange? Or Office? Etc. Microsoft has played catch-up on virtually all fronts in the past 10 years, while open source - with (Red Hat) and without (Mozilla, Eclipse, Apache, etc.) profitable software businesses - has out-innovated Microsoft on a range of fronts.

It's like the world outside software: money can't buy you taste. It also can't buy Microsoft innovation. Fortunately, money isn't the only thing driving open source - community does. Community has proved itself highly adept at running circles around Microsoft in some areas.

Many in the open-source software community have shifted to hybrid business models.

This is only partially true. It's actually the case that most open-source businesses started with a hybrid model. A new breed - Alfresco, Zenoss, MuleSource, etc. - are actually moving away from the hybrid model toward a pureplay open-source model. Even those that retain a hybrid model, like SugarCRM have opted for a stronger open-source message (embracing GPLv3, in SugarCRM's case).

No, Microsoft, much as you'd like the world to continue to belch yesterday's models, open source is actually moving well beyond them. So is the Web 2.0 world, by which you're also getting trounced. Time to move on to a 21st Century business model.

They are making the same business decisions as any commercial software company in terms of what products and services to give away, what intellectual property to protect, how to generate revenue, and how to participate in the community.

This is the heart of Microsoft's open-source angst. The company dearly wants the world to stay flat; for old conceptions to remain long enough for it to fleece its customers a few more times. The unfortunate truth is that open source does things very differently than Microsoft. Yes, it is true that open-source companies think about IP, worry about making money, etc. All businesses do that.

But open-source companies do it very differently from Microsoft. We have outflanked Microsoft. We have a more transparent way in which to engage communities, and it shows. We have customer-friendly ways of generating revenue, and it shows. We protect intellectual property by sharing it.

It is a better way. Ten years from now, even Microsoft will grok this. For now, it's too bad that the company lets anyone but Bill Hilf and Sam Ramji talk with the press. This sort of attempts to make open source look warm and fuzzy to Microsoft, when in fact it's a major threat to the company's current mode of thinking, helps no one.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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