Microsoft Pledges Another Round of Open-Source Links

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 06-12-2006
BOSTON—Microsoft has been reaching out to the open-source community to try to find ways to overcome the incompatibilities between software distributed under the GNU General Public License and its own commercial software.

"Open source is a way of building software and, in its most basic sense, there is nothing incompatible [between] the concept of open source and commercial software.

"But the GPL has an inherent incompatibility that is, to my knowledge, impossible to overcome," Bob Muglia, the senior vice president of Microsoft's server and tools business, told eWEEK in an interview here at Microsoft's annual TechEd developer conference on June 12.

A commercial company has to build intellectual property, while the GPL, by its very nature, does not allow intellectual property to be built, making the two approaches fundamentally incompatible, Muglia said.

Licenses like the BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) and commercial software, on the other hand, are quite compatible with one another, he observed.

"We are open to ways of working with the open-source community broadly, and even in the GPL space we are trying to find ways in which we can build bridges to GPL, but the bridge has to be carefully constructed," Muglia said.

Open-source code advocates have called for cooler heads to prevail in the debate about the first discussion draft of the next version of the GPL. To read more, click here.

"One of the things I have learned is that engineers who work on commercial software really can't work on open source on GPL and engineers who work on GPL can't work on commercial software. You really have to separate the two," he said.

As Microsoft continues along its road of interoperability, it wants to ensure that it will be able to work with software licensed under the GPL and that people will be able to build solutions under the GPL that interoperate with Microsoft's offerings, he said.

He added that this initiative is being driven by Bill Hilf, who established Microsoft's Linux and open-source lab and who reports to Muglia, along with Craig Mundie, its chief technology officer for advanced strategies and policy, as they work on many of the company's broad standards efforts.

Due to the complexity and breadth of initiative, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith and his team are also involved, Muglia said

To read more about Microsoft's efforts to convince the developer community of its commitment to interoperability, click here.

Asked what the reaction from the community had been to Microsoft's outreach on this front, Muglia said it was "skeptical but intrigued. What people are starting to discover is that people who write GPL code are not evil and people who write commercial software are also not evil, we just have different approaches."

The goal, from both sides, is to meet customer needs, he said, adding, "This is just the more mature view of the way the world is evolving, and we want to make sure that if customers are choosing Linux or other open-source-based products that we have ways of interoperating and working effectively with that."

Linux and open-source companies remain Microsoft competitors, and the goal is to do a better job than they do at solving customer needs, and ultimately to have customers choose Microsoft solutions. However, if customers choose not to, Microsoft needs to be interoperating and working well with those companies.

Read the full story on eWEEK.com: Can Windows and Open Source Learn to Play Nice?