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Microsoft Expands Open Source Presence

Microsoft and Apache
PORTLAND, Ore. -- There was a time when open source was the antithesis of everything that Microsoft stood for. But these days, that's no longer the case, it says.

Sam Ramji, senior director of platform strategy at Microsoft, took the stage here at OSCON, offering the promise of collaboration with the software giant while announcing a number of new, open source initiatives.

His biggest news is that Microsoft is joining the open source Apache Software Foundation (ASF) as a platinum sponsor.

"We think this opens up a new chapter for Microsoft," Ramji said. "This is a big thing -- it's an endorsement of the Apache way."

The ASF runs a number of critical open source efforts, including its namesake Apache HTTP Web server -- a rival to Microsoft's own IIS solution.

The group also runs the Apache Axis Web services effort, which is now compatible to the Microsoft Web Services stack.

Ramji also said Microsoft has been working with the Apache POI project, which develops APIs for using pure Java to manipulate various file formats based upon Microsoft's OLE 2 Compound Document format. Those include most Microsoft Office formats, except for the more recent Office Open XML formats, for which Microsoft has embarked on a massive campaign to see adopted as industry standards.

In addition to sponsoring the ASF, Ramji also touted the fact that Microsoft is now adding an additional 150 protocols to its Open Specification Promise (OSP) effort. The OSP is a Microsoft program to make specifications available to third-party developers without asserting legal rights over their patents.

Ramji also announced Microsoft's first-ever contribution to a GPL-licensed project -- a patch for ADOdb, a database abstraction layer for PHP.

Microsoft has been working with the PHP community for some time, thanks to an agreement it has with PHP sponsor Zend.

Overall, Ramji tried his best to ingratiate himself with the OSCON crowd -- even wearing a Mozilla Firefox T-Shirt, and telling the audience that he wants to engage openly and honestly with the open source community. That's a message that he's been preaching for some time.

"I promise to continue to be this community's advocate within the Microsoft organization," Ramji said. "I think we will solve the next generation of challenges by participating and contributing together."

During the question-and-answer session that followed his talk, however, some audience members seized the opportunity to accost Ramji and angrily ask questions about patents and standards.

Microsoft has alleged in the past that open source infringes on its patents. Not surprisingly, OSCON attendees wanted to know whether Microsoft would sue open source users over patent issues.

"We don’t worry about infringement of open source code," he said in response. "We have not litigated against users."

"We have become sponsors of the U.S. Patent Reform Act of 2007," he also said, referring to the legislation now under consideration for updating the patent system.

Microsoft has been cozying up to the Linux community in recent years. In October 2007, Microsoft joined the open source community with a pair of software license which were officially approved by the Open Source Initiative. In March of this year, Microsoft began working with the open source Eclipse Foundation as well.

Not all open source groups are likely to be as welcoming to Microsoft, of course. In an interview with InternetNews.com at OSCON, Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin joked that he went to the Apache Software Foundation and told them that whatever Microsoft is giving them, he'd double it.

Kidding aside, Zemlin doesn't think that Microsoft has a place within the Linux Foundation.

"The Linux Foundation is in the business of promoting Linux and coordinating activity to make Linux better," Zemlin said. "You can't join this organization unless that's your game. So if Microsoft woke up one day and said we really want to support Linux, I guess I'd consider it, but I'm just not seeing it."