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Microsoft's mobile open-source hires: Sign of times

As with Sidekick maker Danger, the software company will find it increasingly difficult to acquire companies that <i>don't</i> have substantial investments in open source.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay

As Microsoft allegedly searches for open-source NetBSD developers to work on its Sidekick mobile phone, acquired along with maker Danger last year, the furor is kicking up that Microsoft finally is getting deep into open source.

This, however, is the wrong furor. Microsoft's move into an open-source operating system means little, given that Danger was almost certainly headed down the NetBSD path well before the Microsoft acquisition, as Fabrizio Capobianco of Funambol points out. Microsoft is simply fulfilling the strategic trajectory that Danger had already plotted out.

The real buzz should center on the fact that this is going to happen again and again and again, as Microsoft joins the 21st century of software. Microsoft will find it increasingly difficult to acquire companies that don't have substantial investments in open source.

Take its attempt to buy Yahoo, for example. Acquiring the Internet company would have propelled Microsoft into a Web infrastructure heavy on open-source technologies such as PHP, MySQL, and Linux. There was no way that Microsoft would have been able to move all of Yahoo over to Windows, .Net, and SQL Server.

This is the shape of acquisitions to come for Microsoft and, indeed, for all traditionally proprietary software companies. The best new companies all use open source in some way, as do more and more old-guard software companies.

In sum, expect to see Microsoft getting ever deeper into open source, regardless of whether it wants to.