There are countless predictions swirling that the world will end in 2012. Yesterday, we might have gotten a sign of the pending apocalypse. Microsoft announced a wholly owned subsidiary, Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc., dedicated to advancing the company’s investments in openness, interoperability, open standards and open source. Yes, my friends, the fat lady has sung and the end is near.
Microsoft’s Newfound Openness
If you haven’t been paying attention, Microsoft -- long known for its less-than-friendly stance toward the open source community and for producing Microsoft versions of, well everything -- has quietly been changing its stripes. The company has participated in numerous open standards initiatives, allowed open source apps in the Windows 8 app store, open sourced its ASP.Net and Web API technologies and added support for several open source technologies to Azure. The company that once called Linux a cancer is now in the top 20 contributors list. In what may be the largest open gesture to date, Microsoft has created an entire company dedicated to being open. No matter what your personal feeling may be toward Microsoft, you have to admit the company is becoming a respectable citizen of the open community.
The company’s Interoperability Strategy team will be the first members of the Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc. staff. The new company will help develop open source building blocks for Azure and collaborate with standards organizations such as DMTF and OASIS to help develop cloud standards. In addition, the team will work with the open source community to ensure technologies such as PhoneGap and jQuery mobile are supported in Windows Phone. Jean Paoli, who has been appointed President of the new company, said via his blog that the new company will help
facilitate the interaction between Microsoft’s proprietary development processes and the company’s open innovation efforts and relationships with open source and open standards communities.”
Is Microsoft Going Soft?
Although Microsoft’s efforts are commendable, there is no chance that the Seattle giant is going to suddenly transform into a nonprofit organization providing free tech for all. Microsoft’s new commitment to open source is squarely rooted in its desire to remain large and profitable. Microsoft is operating in an increasingly competitive environment. Microsoft’s share of the cloud market is tiny, especially compared to public cloud leader Amazon. Embracing the open ecosystem could make Azure more attractive to developers concerned about vendor lock-in.
There are similar stakes for mobile development. Although Windows Mobile is a solid offering, it’s not attracting many customers away from Apple or Google's Android due to an anemic app list. Attracting open source developers means more apps faster.
We will see Microsoft continue to make large investments in open technologies. It’s in the company’s best interest. However, nobody should assume that Microsoft’s actions will inspire similar moves from Apple. Microsoft is a technology company; Apple is a consumer products company. It’s important for Microsoft to have a healthy OEM and partner product community to continue expanding its products popularity, and being open helps with all of those goals.