"Why wouldn't we think about open source?" asks Ray Ozzie

Ray Ozzie may be charting a highly complementary course to open source, as a recent interview shows.

If only Ray Ozzie were in charge of Microsoft. In a at-times fascinating interview in eWeek, Ozzie describes Microsoft's view of the cloud, domain-specific programming languages, and open source.

In discussing open source, Ozzie reveals a pragmatic, intelligent approach to open source that we've rarely seen from Microsoft, except from Jason Matusow, Bill Hilf, Sam Ramji, and others within its open source team. Reading Ozzie's comments, I have hope that Microsoft just might be turning the corner on its understanding of open source:

If there was a benefit to open-sourcing something, a benefit, like a customer benefit, then I don't see why we wouldn't think about it. I mean, we open-sourced a lot of the .NET Framework.

To me it's a very pragmatic choice. I think any company these days, any technology provider, even Microsoft, has to find the right balance of being a contributor and user of open source. If you look at what Apple has done with WebKit--actually if you look at Apple's entire stack, it's masterful in its use of different licenses and different code.

Now, one can certainly quibble as to how seriously Microsoft has worried about "customer benefit" when it comes to open source. The only reason to keep software closed is to benefit the vendor, not the customer. It's fair to argue that the vendor needs to derive some benefit or they could lack adequate income to invest in building great products for would-be customers to buy, but to keep all of one's software proprietary...? I'm struggling to find customer benefit in that formula.

Nor do I think Ozzie is laying down his weapons to embrace open source. Microsoft's new BizSpark program is almost certainly an attempt to keep young startups from doing what many routinely do: turn to open source for cost and performance advantages, as OStatic suggests.

But this is as it should be. Microsoft should be choosing its battles - and its partnerships - with open source wisely. Apple, as Ozzie notes, competes with and complements open source exceptionally well. There's no reason that Microsoft can't do the same.