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Microsoft's many open-source faces

Microsoft is trying to present a consistent story on open source, but it still has a long way to go.

Microsoft is a very big company, so perhaps it's not surprising that it hasn't been able to articulate a coherent message around open-source software. While the Redmond giant has largely distanced itself from earlier criticisms of open source as "anti-American," "a cancer," etc., it struggles to present a coherent, consistent face to the open-source world.

This isn't just true in Microsoft's criticisms of open source, but also its praise.

On the one hand, Microsoft has put TomTom, a major GPS device maker, on the defensive by suing it over patent infringement, including claims against TomTom's use of Linux. Two weeks later, Microsoft released !exploitable Crash Analyzer, an open-source security assessment tool.

This falls in the same week that a book was released by a senior Microsoft intellectual-property attorney highlighting the machinations Microsoft engineered to get around the GNU General Public License in its controversial patent covenant with Novell.

A week later, Microsoft launched Web App Gallery, a service that makes it easy to deploy a range of open-source content management, gallery, wiki, and blogging tools. Almost in the same breath, Microsoft is urging open-source vendors to not promote their cost advantages and instead focus on value, a competition that Microsoft presumably feels it can win.

And now Microsoft has published an official position paper on its open-source views, which says lots of happy things about open source, while cautioning that open source isn't a panacea.

What the !%!%!% is going on? Has Microsoft listened to itself lately?

Of course it has. Microsoft is simply going through growing pains as it learns to adapt to the open-source friendly world in which it lives. Any big company will both compete with and collaborate with open-source software, and Microsoft is no exception. What we're witnessing is the natural inconsistencies made public through Microsoft's efforts to get open source right.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.