There is a very nice article, in Linux for you, with a long and detailed interview with Vijay Rajagopalan, principal architect in Microsoft’s interoperability team. It is long and interesting, polite and with some very good questions. The interesting thing (for me) is that the answers depict a view of Microsoft that is not very aware of what open source, in itself, is. In fact, there is a part that is quite telling:
“Q Don’t you think you should develop an open source business model to offer the tools in the first place?
There are many basic development tools offered for free. Eclipse also follows the same model, which is also called an express edition. These tools are free, and come with basic functionality, which is good for many open source development start-ups. In fact, all the Azure tools from Microsoft are free. All you need is Visual Studio Express and to install Azure. If you are a .Net developer, everything is free in that model too. In addition, just like other offerings in the ecosystem, the professional model is aimed at big enterprises with large-scale client licensing and support.” (emphasis mine.)
The question is: is MS interested in an OSS business model? The answer: we already give out things for free. Well, we can probably thank Richard Stallman for his insistence in the use of the word “free”, but the answer miss the mark substantially. OSS is not about having something for free, and it never was (at least, from the point of view of the researcher). OSS is about collaborative development; as evidenced in a recent post by Henrik Ingo, “The state of MySQL forks: co-operating without co-operating”, being open source allowed the creation of an ecosystem of companies that cooperate (while being more or less competitors) and not only this fact increases the viability of a product even as its main developer (in this case, Oracle) changes its plans, but allows for the integration of features that are coming from outside the company – as Henrik wrote, “HandlerSocket is in my opinion the greatest MySQL innovation since the addition of InnoDB – both developed outside of MySQL”.
Microsoft still uses the idea of “free” as a purely economic competition, while I see OSS as a way to allow for far faster development and improvement of a product. And, at least, I have some academic results that point out that, actually, a live and active project do improve faster than comparable proprietary projects. That’s the difference: not price, that may be lower or not, as RedHat demonstrates; it is competition on value and speed of change.
Ah, by the way: SugarCRM, despite being a nice company with a nice CEO, is not 100% open source, since that by definition would mean that all code and all releases are under a 100% open source license, and this is not the case. As I mentioned before, I am not against open core or whatever model a company wants to use – especially if it works for them, like the case of SugarCRM. My observation is that we must be careful how we handle words, or those words start to lose their value as bearers of meaning.