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Linux Bloggers Wax Skeptical on the Post-Gates World

Well, July 4th may have come and gone, but another independence recently came to pass that could be almost as historic.

That’s Microsoft’s independence from Bill Gates, of course, and it was a hot topic last week as bloggers at ZDNet and elsewhere wondered if the change might bring about a Redmond that’s kinder and gentler to the open source world.

“I feel like Microsoft has taken some important steps towards playing nice with open source and encouraging interoperability,” wrote et764 on Slashdot, where more than 400 comments had appeared by Thursday. “Some examples include projects like IronPython, the WIX Installer tools, the fact that Silverlight actually supports at least one non-Windows platform, and the extremely detailed communications protocol documents recently released on MSDN. Sure, part of this has been for legal compliance reasons, and it turns out customers value things like interoperability.”

A ‘Hire’ Power

The company may also have a subtler reason to continue that trend in the coming years, et764 added. Specifically, “Microsoft needs to hire new employees if it wants to stay relevant, and it competes with the likes of Google and others for these new hires. It also happens that probably the very best college candidates are the ones that have contributed to open source projects.”

In other words, “to attract the best young minds (which is crucial to Microsoft’s long term success), Microsoft is going to have to become much more friendly to open source projects.”

From a different angle, “I have to wonder if the complexity of modern software is part of the big reason driving OSS,” added blahplusplus. “It would seem to me as our systems get faster, we can increase the complexity of our programs ad infinitum, and at some point it ‘breaks the camels back’ and no business can hope to maintain something so large and unwieldy.”

‘Ha Ha Ha Ha … ‘

Then again, another point of view: “Ha ha ha ha, Ha ha ha ha, (catches breath) Ha ha ha,” wrote Anonymous Coward.

“I’ll believe it when I see it, and not a moment before,” agreed LighterShadeOfBlack. “With Microsoft’s record, anything short of unequivocal action should be treated with absolute skepticism.”

Will Gates’ departure bring about essential changes in Microsoft’s approach? Is this the dawn of a new, open era in Redmond? LinuxInsider couldn’t resist taking a small poll of opinions.

‘I Just Don’t See It Happening’

“I really don’t see Gates’ departure having much of an impact on the open source, or even the post-Microsoft, world,” Adam Kane, a blogger on Foogazi, told LinuxInsider.

“There is all kinds of speculation and talk about Microsoft being able to reevaluate their stance on open source now that Gates is gone, but really, Steve Ballmer has been running the show for some time now, and his stance on open source is the same as Gates’,” Kane added. “I think it would be great for both the community and the company if Microsoft participated in the free and open source software world, but I just don’t see it happening.”

Indeed, “Bill Gates leaving on a high note is a good thing for him,” but “it’s too bad he put Ballmer in charge instead of someone who could change the corporate culture to something more customer friendly,” Gerhard Mack, a Montreal-based consultant and Slashdot blogger, told LinuxInsider.

‘Bad News for Microsoft’

Microsoft’s track record thus far “certainly doesn’t make anybody think they’ll move away from the software-as-a-product business model any time soon, and you can’t run that model on open source software,” added Mhall119, a blogger on Slashdot. “Maybe they’ll release some of the stuff they’re cooking up in their labs, but not their bread and butter products.”

On the other hand, “looking back at the change in Sun’s relationship with the F/OSS community after [Scott] McNealy left, I can at least see that it’s possible,” Mhall119 told LinuxInsider.

“I think Gates’ departure is (mildly) bad news for Microsoft,” Slashdot Editor Timothy Lord asserted. “People identify Gates with the company, and for the most part I think he’s a likable character — a smart, ambitious success story. Without him, the company isn’t exactly *faceless,* but Steve Ballmer isn’t anything like a replacement face for Gates.”

Lofty Goals

To the world at large, “I predict no special change: People will still mostly buy Microsoft’s operating systems (and gripe about them), still mostly buy Microsoft’s office suite (and gripe about it),” Lord told LinuxInsider. “Perhaps — only perhaps — the depersonification of Microsoft will lead people to reconsider just why it is they let a single company dominate the way they use computers. If the same were true of automobiles, it wouldn’t take much zooming out to spot the absurdity.”

As to the open source world, “I hope the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation takes seriously its stated goals to broaden worldwide access to computers and the Internet, and to improve schools,” Lord said. “It would be impossible to approach those goals without at least considering wide use of open software and learning materials.

“I’ve long maintained that Microsoft could become the world’s largest supplier of open source software, given corporate willingness to do so,” Lord concluded. “The Gates Foundation could (again, given a willingness) become the world’s greatest educational benefactor.”

2 Comments

  • As much as i’d like to believe it, i just don’t see it happening with Balmer still at the helm.

    He was right up there with Gates as far as proprietary Software vs. Open source goes.

    That’s the way business at M$ has been for the last decade and that’s how it will probably stay until Balmer has stepped down.

    Where it goes from there is an unknown at this point.

  • While M$ is a big player in the world of IT, it is important to realize that FLOSS is bigger than M$. The world of FLOSS has more developers and produces more code than M$. Certainly M$ has a balance sheet that shows huge income but if every FLOSS product cost $100 or so, the balance sheet of M$ would not be much larger than FLOSS. The difference is marketing and the leverage of monopoly/lock-in. If every distro put on an advertising campaign this year, the monopoly would be gone by next year. That does not happen because developers are not wealthy capitalists except in a few cases and they do not get sweetheart deals with IBM in its monopoly days.

    That said, what M$ does with FLOSS is mostly irrelevant. The FLOSS world will go its own way. FLOSS is doing really well in emerging markets because there choices can be made with less lock-in. If M$ does the unthinkable and does more than interoperability with FLOSS, anything is possible. That is extremely unlikely as long as the cash cow continues to give milk. In a couple of years of decline, M$ will find a way to milk FLOSS. The deals with Novell, etc. are likely preparations for that. M$ could annoint a distro, promote it, or generate one of their own in short order but it would seriously undermine the cash cow they have so they will not do that until stock holders complain. As long as dividends keep coming that could be years away.

    If M$ ever does embrace FLOSS for any purpose other than extinguishment, I would be very surprised. I expect they will want to take up any slack of their customers migrating to GNU/Linux by steering them to a M$-supported distro guaranteed to be compatible. They can still exclude other distros by adding incompatibilities that only they can navigate.

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