Microsoft just announced its new arm, Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc. This portion of Microsoft will be working toward better integration between open source and Microsoft technologies. On paper, this sounds like a great idea. The execution of this plan could go a long way toward forging a new era for Microsoft in the eyes of open source developers.
Naturally, I have a few ideas for the president, Jean Paoli, and for the Open Technologies initiative that I think could really help them ensure a grand success with this project — from the perspective of the open source community as well as Microsoft itself.
1: Uphold standards across the board
This has been a sticky issue for Microsoft for a long time. Its lack of adherence to standards has caused issues for a number of open source projects. One of the first things Microsoft should do is pledge to finally fall in line with open standards. I understand this could hit the company where it lives — Microsoft Office — but its Office bottom line is already getting hit by Google Docs and LibreOffice. Why not bridge this gap and play nice with all the other kids on the playground?
2: Roll some open source apps into Small Business Server
Okay, I know I'll get flamed for this (for a number of reasons), but Small Business Server includes some really bad services. Wouldn't it make perfect sense to roll in some of the open source services that are superior to the equivalent Microsoft product? Imagine if SBS came equipped with Apache, PHP, and MySQL!
3: Offer a little PR and marketing to open source
One of the biggest issues with open source is word of mouth. If people don't know about your product, they can't use it. This is an issue with some many DIY and smaller projects — getting the word out. Most (if not all) open source projects do not have the budget for marketing and PR.
4: Help Wine developers get more apps business-ready
Wine developers could stand to benefit the most from this initiative. And with Wine developers benefitting, Microsoft would gain more software sales. Of course, third parties would also enjoy some benefits. Imagine if applications like Photoshop could be sold prepackaged with Wine, so that Linux users could simply purchase the software and install!
5: Allow major open source projects better access to Windows code
I imagine that many open source developers would love to have easy access to Windows code. Why? No more reverse engineering, no more being behind any sort of eight ball causing application development to slow down. With better access to the Windows source code, open source developers could not only further their own projects, but they could help out Windows projects as well. A veritable win-win.
6: Fund an open source project or two
This is huge. If Microsoft can funnel a bit of cash into some of the open source projects best suited for business, those projects could really begin to flourish. But this should not come with some strange contract tying developers to the scope and purpose of Microsoft's designs. Naturally, Microsoft would funnel these funds only to projects that would directly benefit both sides of the golden coin — that's perfectly understandable.
7: Extend its reach to the desktop
I know, this one is crazy. Why would Microsoft want to help the Linux desktop along? It probably wouldn't. But as far as the Linux and open source community are concerned, this olive branch would be a seriously impressive gesture. What could Microsoft do to help the Linux desktop? For one thing, it could help build bridges between open source developers and desktop hardware vendors. But this relationship could go both ways, with each camp helping the other further their desktop developments.
8: Offer workshops to open source developers for integrating with Microsoft products
I would love to see this happen: Microsoft and open source developers working side by side. Why would this be necessary? Not that either camp is the better developer, but if Microsoft developers could help open source developers more easily integrate into their APIs and systems, it would be a significant benefit for both sides.
9: Insist hardware developers release their specs to open source developers
Microsoft still has enough influence in the industry to pull this off. Open source has always had to dance around hardware hurdles, making it appear to lag behind competitors. With Microsoft insisting that hardware vendors release their specs, open source developers wouldn't have to suffer these slings and arrows any longer.
10: Create a committee to develop tools for open source software to communicate with Exchange
Exchange is one of the biggest problems for open source software. Yes, there are tools to enable the connection between Exchange and various open source applications, but they are mostly unstable and unreliable. Having a solid bridge between open source groupware apps and Exchange would be a major milestone.
I look forward to seeing what Mr. Paoli brings to the table with this initiative. There have been plenty of instances where promises were made, but this time Microsoft is actually putting a budget behind the project. And we all know when money like that talks — people listen. The open source community should be excited about the near future. If this works out, some amazing things could develop!
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.