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Open source's Microsoft opportunity

Microsoft is open source's biggest threat--and biggest opportunity. A CNET interview with Ballmer and EMC's Tucci provides insight into how companies need to interact with Redmond.

CNET News has posted a fascinating joint interview with Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and EMC's Joe Tucci. Despite partnering vigorously in several areas (including content management and virtualization), the two companies have discovered that an overriding partnership makes sense--and money.

The interview provides insight into how open-source companies will need to interact with Microsoft going forward: compete with Redmond in one's particular application space but partner with Microsoft as a platform or complementary application.

This isn't to say it won't sometimes be uncomfortable. Tucci notes that even the best partnership will have areas of overlap that make it difficult:

If you look for that alliance or partnership to be perfect, where there (are) zero areas of overlap, I'm not sure that's physically possible with two powerful companies. So, what you have is this co-opetition.

The key, then, is to engage without falling asleep at the wheel. Microsoft competes hard against some open-source projects like Linux, but it also increasingly recognizes open-source applications and infrastructure (like PHP) as vital parts of its platform strategy.

Open-source projects and companies need to shed the allergic reaction to Microsoft the competitor and start thinking seriously about Microsoft the partner, a thought called out by one of my favorite lines from Rushmore, when Jason Schwartzman's character talks about "when the fighting stops" and flashes the peace sign:

I don't believe that engaging Microsoft will result in a weak-kneed Neville Chamberlain-esque "peace for our time" moment. Not if we're careful. Not if we treat Microsoft with the respect and wariness that its size, past, and ambitions deserve.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.