Open Source Leaving Microsoft Sitting on the Fence?
Features The open source model, with special regard to Linux, has no doubt become a formidable competitor to the once sole giant of the software industry, Microsoft. It is expected when the market share of an industry leader becomes threatened, retaliation with new product or service offerings and marketing campaigns refuting the claims of the new found competition are inevitable. However, in the case of Microsoft, it seems they have not taken a solid or plausible position on the use of open source applications as an alternative to Windows. The open source model, with special regard to Linux, has no doubt become a formidable competitor to the once sole giant of the software industry, Microsoft. It is expected when the market share of an industry leader becomes threatened, retaliation with new product or service offerings and marketing campaigns refuting the claims of the new found competition are inevitable. However, in the case of Microsoft, it seems they have not taken a solid or plausible position on the use of open source applications as an alternative to Windows.

I read on a daily basis the latest ventures of Microsoft from the much publicized "war on Linux" to surrendering and publishing portions of their source code. In their first argument, executives of the Redmond Washington company regard Linux as everything from a "waste of money" to a threat to the well-being of the software industry. During these arguments, Microsoft executives stick by their original perception, attempting to position open source software as a less secure, less technologically sound option that does not only offer inferior solutions but is inherently bad for the financial and developmental growth of the industry. Although proved wrong time and time again by accredited analysts, journalists and customers it is a fair position for a corporation to take when their competition has them against the ropes.

However, what is puzzling to me is that Microsoft never seems to stick with that argument. Whether they are intentionally or unintentionally releasing portions of their source code to the public, they themselves have implemented a "shared source initiative" in recent years. Coincidentally, this program mirrors the benefits brought fourth by the open source development process in which segments of their source code are released to the public intended to be used as a resource for developers. Originally, backing up the view that open source was substandard and dangerous, the program operated under a "look don't touch" policy, however, in recent months the software giant has changed its tune offering participating developers the chance to modify and propose ways to improve upon the available code.

Jason Matusow, manager of Microsoft's shared source initiative defines the benefits of the program as something developers and Microsoft will benefit from. Further emphasizing his claim Matusow was quoted as saying "by allowing others to modify the code, Microsoft benefits by increasing Windows development, while programmers benefit from improved tools." Additionally, in a separate interview, he was further quoted as saying "the whole function of shared source is to learn from open-source and apply that to how we do business." The irony of this project is that it follows a similar model to that of open source development and consequentially is the exact ideal proprietary developers like Microsoft so vehemently condemn.

To create and promote a program such as Microsoft's shared source initiative, while at the same time making such harsh comments to the Linux and open source community concerning their development model, confirms the theory that the executives at Microsoft truly do see the merit in open source and find those vendors operating under that model to be a substantial threat to their business. From a consumer point of view, on the other hand, Microsoft sitting on the fence is an attempt to please everyone but, in actuality, could prove to be debilitating. How can consumers trust a company in which their whole business model and focus is skewed based on the situations and actions of a particular day?

Original text from Guardian Digital's Behind the Shield Newsletter. An archive can be found here.

Dave Wreski, CEO Guardian Digital, Inc.

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