No, Microsoft, you still don’t get it.

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.

  1. #1 by Charles Tryon - December 6th, 2010 at 23:34

    I’m not saying that I agree with RMS on this point, but since you mentioned his name…. I should point out that he has long had a gripe with the “Open Source” value of, as you say, “a way to allow for far faster development and improvement of a product.” RMS has long emphasized the intrinsic value of real freedom in software, as a guarantee that I can use the software as I see fit, that I can improve it in any way I like (regardless of whether or not someone else is interested in my changes), and I can pass those changes along to anyone I want, and by extension, they will have the same freedoms as I have. The fact that this ends up being a more energized development environment is a side-effect of the fact that the software has been set free.

    Again, I’m not disagreeing with you. Just clarifying a point on RMS.


  2. #2 by cdaffara - December 7th, 2010 at 08:17

    Dear Charles, many thanks for your comment. I know that RMS has always valued freedom more than any supposed Open Source development advantage, and I agree with you that he sees it only as a nice side effect. In our research I have, however, voluntarily decided to avoid any philosophical or political background, and focus on the aspects that do have a direct impact on the economic potential of FLOSS. So, in this sense, freedom has a substantial (economic) value, as it does collaborative development. You are right in pointing out that my presentation of RMS views is simplistic, but I still have qualms with the choice of “free” as the defining word, given the ease with which it can be turned into something different.
    Thanks again,
    Carlo Daffara

  3. #3 by twitter - December 8th, 2010 at 19:10

    Thanks for noticing this, but why do you blame RMS for Microsoft’s dishonesty and poor reporting by Linux for you? Microsoft understands the issues of software freedom and open source development. As Bill Gates said, “There’s free software and then there’s open source… there is this thing called the GPL, which we disagree with.” Microsoft’s spokesperson ducked the question to promote their second rate and restrictive development tools. The Linux for you reporter should have followed up to get a better answer instead of publishing an advertisement for Microsoft.

    If you want to help people understand software freedom, you can point to the GNU definition when you mention it. The moral and practical implications are not obvious but the four software freedoms are easy to grasp and the GNU page is concise. If you do this, everyone will eventually understand what RMS did twenty five years ago when he created the philosophical, social and technical foundations of gnu/linux and all the other fruits of the free software movement.

  4. #4 by cdaffara - December 9th, 2010 at 08:19

    I have the utmost respect for the work done by RMS and its fellows at the FSF, and absolutely believe that his work and passion was fundamental for having a more free and open ecosystem of IT.
    I don’t blame RMS for MS dishonesty, but I blame him for having chosen a word association that many people thought would have caused this potential confusion. As any marketing people can tell you, if you have to explain something (like in “free as in free speech, not free as in free beer”) you are already losing some of your potential audience.
    That’s the only point I wanted to make – not to shift blame from MS.

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