microsoft_logo_2010.jpgHistorically, Microsoft (news, site) has shown active hostility to open source, referring to it as a cancer among other things. These days, however, the company has been dipping its toes in open source CMS waters to rather mixed reactions.

Dotting the J's

On April 27, 2010, a nervous Sam Moffatt from the Open Source Matters (news, site) Community Oversight Committee announced that Microsoft signed the Joomla! Contributor Agreement, or JCA. If reading those words makes you hear villain entrance music in your head, you're not alone. (For me it's usually the theme for the Empire in the first Star Wars trilogy.)

There is now Microsoft-contributed code in the Joomla! (news, site) 1.6 trunk. Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth begin.

What it Means

Well, first of all, that code was submitted under the JCA, so it's bound by the same rules as code from any other contributor. As Mark Simpson stated in his response to the announcement, "They've signed the JCA, so they're contributing on *our* terms."

It's also important to remember this key fact: the code they contributed is open source. Don't trust it? Go examine it.

Like many of those reacting to the announcement, I'm personally taking a wait and see attitude. Signing the proper agreements is a good step in walking the walk of changed behaviors, but it's just one step. To gain the trust of the open source community, it will take many more steps and years of consistency. This is a case where the people with the tinfoil hats have a lot of genuine past events that make them skittish.

Not Just Joomla!

Lest you think that Joomla! was singled out in particular, Microsoft also:

They've also been sponsoring PHP and open source CMS events in Europe.

Microsoft is also releasing code around other open source web CMSs. At DrupalCon, Microsoft announced the release of their latest SQL Server (news, site) driver for PHP and talk about a new module for Drupal 7 that takes advantage of it. Who wants to bet that they'll make some form of announcement at WordCamp as well?

Playing Nice, or Just Playing?

All in all, open source survived and even thrived throughout every tactic Microsoft has tried. I don't see how dancing a little closer to the devil changes that. If market pressures or just the inescapable evidence that open source is here to stay have finally convinced the powers that be within Microsoft to try participating and playing nice, then I say welcome to the party. Competition is healthy for all of us.

What if walking the walk slips into the same old patterns of abuse? Well, there's plenty of bright and motivated open source programmers who would be happy to make Microsoft's products irrelevant. And that, I suspect, has something to do with the latest overtures.