Why Microsoft is serious about Open Source

Microsoft held out the peace pipe to the Open Source community today when the company announced that is offering free access to its most important APIs and formerly proprietary protocols, and will offer more support for open standards. Why has Microsoft seen the light? I have a one-word answer: Google.

As Computerworld reports, Microsoft is taking some very significant steps to support open standards, and to improve its relationship with the Open Source community, which has often been rocky.

The company will publish APIs and communications protocols for its most important, high volume products, including Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007 -- and future versions of the products. In addition, says Computerworld, Microsoft "won't require third party developers to buy licenses or pay royalty fees in order to access this information."

There's a lot more for the Open Source community as well, including supporting open standards, and an Open Source interoperability initiative, meant to improve Microsoft's relationship with the Open Source community. Microsoft, in fact, has been doing this for some time, with its Open Source labs, and Port 25 site, devoted to Microsoft work on Open Source.

Why has Microsoft suddenly gotten religion? The company has finally recognized that it can't succeed as an island, no matter how big that island may be.

Google's support of open standards have served Google well, and there's a sizable ecosystem of sites and developers working with Google. More important, it is becoming increasingly true that the Internet has become, in essence, an operating system, with applications in the form of Web sites built on top of it. That will become only more so in the future. And the starting point for just about everyone is Google, not any site run by Microsoft. Unless Microsoft acts, it could become an also-ran to the search giant.

In order to remain relevant, Microsoft needs to become open, and allow applications to be hooked more easily its products. Because Microsoft has been closed, there hasn't been nearly as enthusiastic developer community devoted to it as to various Open Source technologies. In the long run, enthusiasm pays off, because it means innovation.

No matter the reason, though, Microsoft's move today is all to the good --- good for users, good for developers, and ultimately good for Microsoft as well.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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