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Microsoft's Open Source Olive Branch

BOSTON -- It seems kind of strange to have Microsoft, long considered the open source "enemy," to deliver a keynote at a conference about Linux, but that's exactly what happened in Boston today.

Microsoft Platform Technology Strategy Director Bill Hilf delivered a keynote on interoperability between Windows and Linux and discussed the maturation of the debate between the two operating systems.

He also detailed Microsoft's own test efforts in its Open Source Software Lab and officially announced the launch of Port 25, the communications and blogging site that gives some additional character and personality to those efforts.

Knowing that he stood at the head of an audience that may not have been particularly enamored of Microsoft, Hilf took every opportunity to make sure the audience knew that he knew what they think about Microsoft.

"This is the first time that Microsoft has ever done a LinuxWorld keynote," Hilf said. "Hopefully you won't throw things at me."

Hilf then detailed the scale and scope that Microsoft's Open Source Software Lab entails.

"We focus heavily on scenarios that exist between Microsoft and open source and also test in development to see what will happen."

The lab has over 300 servers and client systems running nearly every Linux, Unix and BSD distribution. Hardware includes IBM's Power and Sun's Sparc, as well as x86 based systems.

"We run nearly every operating system there is," Hilf said. " Diversity in our lab is super important, so we intentionally make it very complex."

Beyond just an exercise in running operating systems, Hilf's group also runs both commercial and open source applications across the lab's servers.

Hilf noted colloquially that at the entrance to Microsoft's Open Source Labs, there are three penguins: one with hands over his ears (hear no evil), eyes (see no evil) and mouth (speak no evil).

"Its a reminder that we do technical research, and we don't get caught up in hype or systems; we deal with technical systems."

Microsoft's Open Source Labs efforts are all about helping to figure out interoperability. He noted that Microsoft isn't all about vendor lock in and there it recognizes there is choice in the market.

"Sometimes we have to compete and co-operate in the same breadth," Hilf said. "We do that with many partners today including IBM, SAP, Oracle and others."

Hilf said that the laws of physics do not apply to the software business, and that it is infinitely malleable.

"Standards should be adaptive to market conditions," he said.

A key to figuring out those market conditions is getting feedback, which is what Microsoft is doing with its Port 25 initiative.

Port 25 is a play on the fact that port 25 is typically used for SMTP for e-mail communication.

The site contains blogs, interviews and technical analysis from Microsoft's Open Source Software Lab. The goal is to open the feedback loop so that Microsoft can "communicate" better with the open source community.

Hilf expects the feedback will be productive and not like some of the anti-Microsoft arguments of the past.

"I'm very proud to see the evolution of this industry that we've done away with the childish squabbling of 'mine is better than yours,'" Hilf said.

"Commercial and open source can co-exist and it's a maturation of what's going on in our industry."