Microsoft + Apache = ?

You saw the big news: Microsoft announced that it will give $100k to the Apache Software Foundation. What are the implications of this move?

I don’t know exactly, but I smell opportunity! 

I feel very pleased with this step. Of course, it is only a start, and we will have to see how it goes.  But it is a good start.

Some have expressed suspiscion at Microsoft’s “angle”  for giving this donation to Apache.  Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. 

For some historical context – it’s interesting that no one expressed “suspiscion” when IBM founded Eclipse, and then proceeded to make a commercial tool out of it, while simutaneously dropping the bottom out of the Java tools market, leading to the struggles and in some cases failure of tools and tools companies, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.  I haven’t even seen retrospectives that examined this “angle” by IBM. Do you remember tools like JBuilder, Cafe, WebGain?  None of those companies or tools exist any longer.  The value of Borland as a company went from hundreds of millions of dollars to essentially nothing, as its tools business evaporated. How could any of these companies possibly survive when Eclipse had undermined the foundations of the business model?  

No one expressed suspiscion when BEA donated XMLBeans to the Apache Software Foundation in the Beehive strategy.  No one asked, what is BEA up to?  When Nokia announced plans to open-source Symbian, did anyone express suspiscion?

The situations are very parallel.  As publicly-traded companies, IBM, BEA (now part of Oracle), Nokia and Microsoft are committed to make a profit for their shareholders.  They are all trying to make money.  In each case, their actions and strategies are guided by that standard.  Companies are not created as non-profit charitable organizations, and do not act as charities.  They do not act as communes.  That’s why they are called companies. 

When IBM gave money and code and people to Eclipse, it was part of a calculated strategy to make money, and IBM did not fret, I assure you, about the ramifications for pure tools vendors such as Borland (semi-pure) or WebGain, or all the employees of those companies.  When BEA gave XMLBeans to Apache, it was part of a calculated strategy to make money.  With it’s Symbian plans, Nokia is “giving to get.”  Microsoft, too, continues to want to make money, and its donation to Apache can only be viewed from that lens.  

Obviously, giving money away doesn’t make money directly.  Sometimes you cannot sail into the wind and you need to tack.  Sometimes you cannot climb straight up the rock face and you need to traverse. Sometimes you cannot run the marathon today; you need to rest or train or both.

This is how I view the Apache donation.  It is a beginning of a formal relationship between Microsoft and Apache.  Where it goes is of course up to the people that drive it.  It could amount to nothing in 3 years. More likely, the two organizations will look for and find shared interests to develpo.  If Microsoft is wise, it will use the relationship to continue to learn more about Open Source, and continue to seek and find opportunities to share back-and-forth with the community, while balancing the need to make money.  Apache may find some additional project opportunities. Apache may get access to more Microsoft developers.  Projects like AXIS may benefit directly. With more direct support from Microsoft, interoperability between Apache stuff and Microsoft stuff will tend to improve. 

By the way, as Sam Ramji points out in his blog post on port25, this donation is absolutely NOT a step away from IIS, or .NET, or any of the other application platform technology that Microsoft currently delivers. 

Companies are going to continue to act in the interest of their shareholders, and I’m glad for that.  The key thing is for people and other companies to look for situations where interests are shared, where there is a win-win.  For example, if IBM is willing to sponsor Eclipse, many developers figured, why not try out Eclipse and see if it is the right Java tool for me. In the same way, after Microsoft made available free versions of Visual Studio and SQL Server, millions of developers tried them out.  Now, with Microsoft donating a significant portion of money to Apache, there are likely opportunities here.

The last thing I wanted to say is this: In the past Microsoft execs have made some pretty harsh remarks about open source in general. It’s “unhealthy”, it’s “an intellectual-property destroyer”, it’s a “cancer”.   This comes only from a lack of understanding, a place in which Microsoft could view open source only and purely as a threat.  This is clearly changing.  Today, there are many people within Microsoft who are dedicated to open source work – promoting open source, advocating it, directly writing open source code, and so on.  And, remember that at the bottom line, it isn’t whether the source is open or not.  The litmus test for the rest of the world is, is the company doing things I (or my company) can benefit from?  Openness in general is a good thing.  So, when Microsoft enabled Visual Studio developers to debug into the .NET Framework source code – that was a good thing. When Microsoft supports for open source projects, and supports employees who work on projects hosted there, that’s a good thing. When Microsoft gives free access to dev tools to colleges, that’s a good thing. 

There are opportunities here. 
Let’s look for them.


Comments (3)

  1. finid says:

    I don’t think you understand the culture and mindset of MS. You can’t compare IBM or any other firm donating to an open source project to MS doing the same. IBM has never viewed the open source community as a treat. IBM was one of the first major companies to invest heavy – financially and in lines of code – in open source projects.

    When MS was trying – via fronts like SCO – to destroy Linux, IBM was a major supporter. IBM has been good for the open source community, but you can’t say the same for MS.

    You state that “past Microsoft execs have made some pretty harsh remarks about open source in general. This comes only from a lack of understanding, a place in which Microsoft could view open source only and purely as a threat.  This is clearly changing.” Changing, eh? You gotta be kidding!

    The very latest report from MS identified “open source” as a threat. And what do you do to something you consider a threat? Kill, of course, Something that MS has a history of doing. Does the name Netscape ring a bell?

    If the open source community were a single product like Netscape, MS would have killed it a long time ago. I could write a book about various trick that MS has employed to kill Linux, but I’ve got better things to do.

    The open source community has done well inspite of MS and its FUD tactics. I wish the ASF had rejected the donation from MS. You can’t be too careful when dealing with MS. Gates and Balmer are guys who would give you a big hug while stabbing you in the back.

  2. cheeso says:

    It’s certainly true that I understand the culture and mindset of MS differently than you do.  

    I cited some things that I accepted as clear signs of change and you wrote "Changing, eh?  You gotta be kidding!"    I guess with the exception of all the signs of change, then there really are no signs of change.  ??

    by "The very latest report from MS "  – I am guessing you are referring to a 10-Q, one of the quarterly financial reports?  If you know the company then you know Open Source continues to be a threat to the business in some ways.  Free tools, databases, operating systems.  In any business, the success of the competitor product tends to limit the success of the in-house product.  But that kind of view is what is changing.  I really believe that Microsoft understands that the world really IS big enough for multiple options.

    Your comments seem to indicate that you do not share that view, you seem to believe the world is just not big enough for MS and anything else.  You are entitled to your opinion.

  3. Lothar says:

    The strategy behind the donation is quite simple. Microsoft

    wants to polish up its image as Open Source Company,

    especially since it’s on the radar of the European Union

    where currently are discussions (again) about software-patents.

    The regular politician can’t see the difference between an

    Open Source Company that is donating money and resources

    to built up something and a company that is just spending some

    money to an Open Source Project, so this kind of strategy

    might work.

    I don’t see parallels to the example you brought up. Microsoft

    is not making IIS open source.