Open Source

Microsoft (back) in the open source business again

Microsoft has released the Common Open Source Application Publishing Platform. Believe it or not, Jack Wallen sees this as a positive step in the bridging of Windows and open source. Read on to find out why.

This morning I got up and read through some Linux news looking for inspiration for a column. The usual fluff and stuff flew by like it does every day:

  • AppX does this.
  • Ubuntu 10.4 on schedule.
  • Ubuntu has majority of Linux market.
  • Linux fans are Linux' worst enemies.

Blah blah blah...

But then something flashed by like the beacon of a lighthouse. The headline? "Microsoft to develop own open source platform". My first reaction was, haven't we heard this line of shill before? That reaction was quickly replaced with Should we really care? After I had given this idea enough thought I finally realized, yes, we should care! But before I tell you just why we should care, let me tell you what Microsoft is planning.

The great MS is in the planning stages of what they are calling The Common OpenSource Application Publishing Platform (or COAPP). Now before anyone rears up and says, It's a hoax, I did check and the domain coapp.org is registered to Mr. Garrett Sarack (who happens to be an Open Source developer for Microsoft). So, as far as I can tell, this seems legit. But what is COAPP? According to Serack:

“CoApp aims to create a vibrant Open Source ecosystem on Windows by providing the technologies needed to build a complete community-driven Package Management System, along with tools to enable developers to take advantage of features of the Windows platform.”

After further reading, it seems the intent is to build a system where open source applications can be built to, pretty much, fall closer in line with the standard Windows installation routines. In other words, open source applications will install more like a typical Windows application. I think Microsoft has had a few realizations:

(1) Open source is a valid and viable development community.

(2) Microsoft has realized that the open source community has followed standard guidelines for Linux package management systems, which has made installation/adoption easier. Now they are willing to help the open source community out to enable their packages to follow standard Windows installation methods.

I know I do my fair share of Microsoft bashing. But this time, I think Microsoft is being up front with the open source community. And, believe it or not, I see this as a good thing. I see this as a means for the open source community to finally get some of the credence they have so long deserved. And by getting this pseudo-Microsoft seal of approval, it will open up the door for open source development in arenas they have, to this point, had trouble with. What I am talking about is the enterprise -- that big pie-in-the-sky target that open source has a heck of a time reaching. I've seen it first hand. As an employee to one of the fastest growing (and widely respected) consulting firms in our metro city, I have witnessed business and enterprise clients scoff at open source for one reason - Microsoft hasn't approved.

This time around there is only one way to view this...Approval. Microsoft is saying that open source is here to stay so we might as well just embrace and extend. And they are right in thinking so. And this can only serve to make the computing world better. I have seen so many instances where open source software would make an environment more productive and more reliable. Not as in world domination, but as in if you added this open technology to your system, everything would improve. Now that is going to be possible. Now open source developers will be able to take advantage of the Microsoft packaging systems and create MSI packages and maybe even garner a certificate of trust from good ol' MS itself.

Imagine the day when Apache, MySQL, OpenOffice, The GIMP, and a whole host of other Windows-compatible open source software, gains that trust such that users can install said apps and not see that window pop up asking if they really should trust this software. Yes, you should trust that software. You should have trusted it all along!

I applaud Microsoft for this effort. And now that they have extended this olive branch, it's up to the open source community to take advantage and make the best of it. My fear is that so much of the open source community will see this as a back-door tactic of MS hoping to somehow, finally prove that open source software should NOT be used in ANY environment. Or maybe it's their final attempt at finding the holy grail of patent infringement. Ultimately, however, I think this is Microsoft's round about way of crying, Uncle!

So what do you say open source developers? Are you going to trust Microsoft and use this new platform? Or are you going to turn your head and scoff? I certainly hope it's the former, as you may never have such an easy opportunity to prove, once and for all, the validity of your model.

About

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 getjackd.net.

30 comments
tierwarm1
tierwarm1

I believe this is a good idea as long as it has been tested befre putting it on the market because i wouldn't want to use it then it becomes faulty and possible shut my computer down or casing a corruption

public_domain
public_domain

who in their right mind trusts msoft after all the "screw-you"s we've heard toward developers? they always have some sort of crooked up-yours angle. then threaten people when they front-run the public license. how aboout msoft just withers and dies on the vine. with friends like them, who needs enemies.

sachindabir
sachindabir

It is not for the love of open source, but purely to protect and grow its Windows OS business that MS wants OSS developers to develop applications on Windows platform. It also shows that Windows OS platform (to MS-office to some extent) is the only real biz that MS has and it cares for. It is an acceptance that it alone can not create everything for the developers, users and enterprises, which it used to think till very recently. If MS moves ahead seriously about the above mentioned, it would be for the OSS and OSS model. sachin.dabir@ashnik.com

richie65x
richie65x

They are emphasizing that they are not Apple by opening up and embracing innovation. No need to compete with Apple because MS's only real competition is Open Source and that concept is impossible to fight - kind of like trying to punch a cloud. Apples tight control will eventually destroy them, the same way that IBM lost out back in the 80's.

robzi
robzi

Its more likely - Common REVENUE Application Publishing Platform, i.e. CRAPP M$ must see it a future revenue stream or they would not be interested.

jf.chabot
jf.chabot

jf.chabot@yahoo.ca The question, "Is COAPP Microsoft's way of embracing Open Source?", is answering itself. Yes it is the Microsoft WAY of embracing Open Source. As I always thought and told: "Microsoft's marketing plan use IT to make money". And i am not taking about the way they deal with others businneses ! As a matter of fact if this company had had a sense of respect to their customers, they would have done business in this way: "Develop a product, for a specific need in IT, and make money out of it. And patch the security issues right away not in a future release". Nevertheless, it is in fact a good thing that Microsoft do this, and probably it is a move that they have to take if they want to survive! I think that this move is another genious business move to keep the market (carpet!) under it's feet. By doing so, they will probably boost the parallel economy of the Open Source Software developper, allowing that they already have a big "distribution system". In the meantime, and it is here that I think Miscrosoft is clever, they will receive an amount of money from the developper who want to sell his software through Microsoft's COAPP. In doing so, Microsoft could be tagged has a re-distributor of software. And if we push forward on this thought, they could even refuse to take any responsibility, by rejecting the problems to the Open Source developper, for any support. So Microsoft could become an "Amazon like" software distributor.

todd_dsm
todd_dsm

MS is not saying anything like "Linux is just as good". Based on Jack's fine reporting, it only appears that they are seeing the benefits of the distribution methods used by the open source community. Due to the nature of control, the stock-piling of wealth, and the fear of loosing said wealth that comes with it, it took them a little over 10 years to see these benefits. It makes me think of the abolishment of slavery. I didn't realize this until a recent vacation to New Orleans, LA but our B&B owner explained that when slavery was on the way out it was met with great opposition by the plantation owners of course. But, after legislation was finally passed, they had no choice in the matter and the slaves became free men. In this case the plantation owners were no longer responsible for the slaves life time of room and board which was approx approx $1.10/day, as I understand it. However, they still needed the farming done. The newly freed men still needed to feed, house, and clothe themselves and their families; this meant work. Nothing much changed and life on the farm moved on. The one notable exception was that the funds paid for room and board for the life time of a slave was reduced to a weekly pay rate which, as I understand it, then became approximately $ 0.30/day. The profit margins went straight through the roof. It was only then that the plantation owners saw the benefit of free people. I do know that I've read some snippets at Samba's site about a recent trip the Samba developers took to Redmond, WA. The Samba developers were invited to MS in order to shape Samba4 more precisely. They spent a week with MS engineers in pursuit of Samba4 and in the end it seems all went well. http://people.samba.org/people/2009/10/05 I'd hesitate to make a prediction regarding the motivations of MS, as they have had some radical and dangerous ideas in the past (wins, cifs, smb, etc). It appears about as creepy as when Apple made(makes) the same types of decisions. All I can say is keep your ears to the ground and sleep with one eye open. It's a less comfortable rest that way but you always wake up in the morning ;-)

onthego
onthego

I might not understand all the nuances for this "dynamic" out of M$, but it seems to me that whatever the open-source world does is mainstream, with or without M$. If M$ is providing a means for the open-source community to more easily port towards running on Windows, then bring it on. If this is a project that has alterior sinister motives, it would only affect M$. The open-source world would just continue on as it has in the past and M$ looses in that respect yet again.

patricearnal
patricearnal

In my opinion, MS is applying the rule "if you can't kill you ennemy, embrace it" (an try to strangle it) It is what MS has already done with the open standards for documentation.

Gemmz
Gemmz

Let's face it: Microsoft needs do very little in the face of Open Source software. In my various attempts to install Linux operating systems, I usually failed owing to my lack of computer knowledge, to the point that I could not understand what the help pages offered - or even what the developers suggested I do. With this level of knowledge needed just to INSTALL linux, is it any wonder that Microsoft has the field? Linux is seen to be for geeks - it has been my experience too - and if you are a geek then you have a chance of being able to share the wealth that is available. So Microsoft has nothing to fear from this toothless tiger, and it can make itself look generous by including Open Source. It is after all, all about image: and Microsoft has won that battle hands down!

softwareFlunky
softwareFlunky

Accept the concept, foreign as it may seem, that Microsoft is a business out to make money and you can see why they want to stay in control. I'm afraid Microsoft is out to embrace and screw over Open Source; their normal operating procedure. Look what Apple is doing to its developers if you need to see how this could go. And why stop with just restricting technology and ignoring developer's input on technology used in Windows when Microsoft can make developers pay through the nose for Microsoft development kits and, even more expensive, Microsoft's approvals. No, Open Source should not march to Microsoft's drum. Now here's a concept for all the jerks out there trolling through posts looking for ideas to write about: Linux and all the open source applications that run on it is, from a high level, the equivalent of embracing and extending Windows and Windows applications; especially MS Office, their big money maker. Don't think that Microsoft doesn't see it that way and isn't looking to put the brakes on - it's business.

cailan.sacks
cailan.sacks

Dear Mr Microsoft, I will NOT, under any circumstances, be tempted by your evil attampts to... Mmmm, is that a caramello bear? Sure i will get in your truck. So you say my parents were in an accident, and that they sent you to find me... C'mon, am I the only one who sees this dodgey slight of hand? I seen the same "embracing open source" crud when they signed the Novell deal. Fool me once, shame on you... Fool me twice... Oh my word, peanut clusters...

dark_angel_6
dark_angel_6

I have seen a number of changes over the past six months or so from microsoft which suggest that they are actually listening to consumers and developers, This could be yet another. If this is the "olive branch" that you say it is then this could be a very big win for the open source community. I would be very interested to see how this all pans out and hope things workout in favour of open source.

ropateviliame
ropateviliame

Could it just be that because Microsoft seems to be moving towards "big business enterprise" and dropping 'small business" (no longer providing its Accounting programme - which was potentially as good as anything in the market had they provided for base currency support for any currency, and added both purchase tax and VAT/GST for all not just UK; dropping Money home and business) and moving to cloud SAAS, are they hoping that the 'Open Source Community will do this job for them? I am still not certain that Microsoft can be totally trusted to really support the Open Source Community

orionds
orionds

This is obviously not an idea that originated from the top brass in MS - more likely the brainchild of one or two people - and MS will see if it works without upsetting their apple cart, that is, their bottom line. MS has too much invested in their closed system - Windows, MS Office, MS Server - to readily adopt other systems, e.g. cloud computing. If they did switch, it would be tantamount to admitting that the other systems are just as good or better and that installing Windows or MS Office no longer an necessity to capable and productive computing on the desktop, server or the Web. Yes, time will tell. MS sees the faint hints of writing on the IT wall but they are very reluctant to switch and lose their dominance - like the Roman Empire.

D T Schmitz
D T Schmitz

I've made the case for why Linux is safe. There are several reasons. The one which stands out as an exemplar for Microsoft to consider is the 'repository system'. Its function is a central point of software/binary blob/driver distribution. For example Ubuntu. Canonical vetts apps which means authors' backgrounds are checked, source code is reviewed, tested before admission is granted to the repo system. The repo system is GPG Keyring protected. This feature ensures that all Apps are secured and locked and no outside 'rogue' App can find its way into the store. These features combined make downloading and using software on Linux relatively easy and most importantly 'safe'. No user has go outside of the repo to find software. Windows users unfortunately will eventually need to find what they need from the Internet and put themselves at 'risk' of downloading a rogue application, worse a rootkit. Microsoft doesn't have this gem of a feature, the repo system. But soon if they work to develop a vendor 'consortium' they might and gain a much needed closure to one of the most common ways Windows systems become infected. I'm just sayin' :) Dietrich T. Schmitz Linux Advocate

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Windows works 100% of the time. At best it's unreliable at worst it's downright crap depending on who you want to speak to. ;) Col

johann
johann

Common REVENUE Application Publishing Platform. That was great! I am sill laughing out loud as I write this.

david.hunt
david.hunt

No it isn't M$ that loses, its the Windows users that are deprived of choice.

david.hunt
david.hunt

Another way of stating it is: "Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer". How many times have we seen MS sidle up to a technology or product, appear to embrace it, only to subvert it, buy it or swerve off in an MS favourable direction after a market acceptance develops. Personally I don't see the need:- - No microsoft operating system is "officially supported by MS anyway". After all, you invalidate "official support" if you edit the Registry! - How many mainstream drivers are unsigned because of the prohibitive cost of obtaining the official certification? Of course if you install a non-certified driver...whoops there goes the "official support" again. Now, I'm not suggesting MS will necessarily refuse to help you, but it gives them an ability to choose whether to do so. You get the help that they are prepared to offer on their terms. Otaining help in the Open Source world is heaps easier,quicker and more direct. I think that if a substantial following of this new framework develops, we'll see MS apply controls that suit them and *not* the developers or users. They can do so because having attracted a substantial following, it will take quite some time for Open Source developers to unwind their dependence, and that provides MS with a critial market hiatus. Another possibility is that we end up with many Open Source apps on Windows being dependent on a framework similar to .Net. Just think... proprietary Open Source mmmm. While I'm always happy to look for a silver lining, I'll be *very* wary of the possible pitfalls that could be imposed. How about a new Registry Key controlled by AD Policy that says AllowOpenSourceInstall = 0. MS isn't being magnanimous. Theres a Micro$oft motive lurking behind it somewhere.

eclypse
eclypse

Have you ever even installed Windows? Like the previous post says, any recent (like within the last five years) distro installs very easily and you only need to know how to click "next" and enter username and password information. Is that too difficult? I think I may still have some old DOS and Windows 3.1 disks I could send you...

techrepublic@
techrepublic@

... is all it takes to install most mainstream GNU/Linux desktop distributions (e.g. Mandriva, Ubuntu, Fedora). It is just as easy (easier if you don't have the drivers Windows handy) than installing Windows 7.

philpub
philpub

softwareFlunky is right, all they want (and should want) is earn money. The CoApp website spells it out clearly: "CoApp aims to create a vibrant Open Source ecosystem on Windows". They want to repeat what they tried on C++ with MFC, create an ecosystem that is dependent on MS and will only run on Windows. I have no need for CoApp. There is an excellent API (Qt4) that provides independence of the operating system, and that allows creation of great open-source software for all platforms, not just Windows. Qt4 works fine on Windows. In fact, I used to work for a company that sells high-priced engineering software for unix, mostly linux. One of the departments actually does the Qt4 development on Windows, because of Microsoft's superb IDE, and ports the production version to various Linuxes, never selling a Windows version. Microsoft does have some good stuff, but I hope nobody will use CoApp!

jck
jck

I just laughed out loud... Mmmmm...peanut clusters. :^0

Zegamega
Zegamega

Microsoft must be saying Develop me for free!, heck I don't even have to pay a sweatshop in some remote third world country for this, these guys are so all over us just entering the arena they'll work backwards and do flips and we haven't even said anything yet, but a few words. Also lets be real hackers and those who write viruses for microsoft causing millions of dollars in them fixing the problems would perhaps be re-routed in them having it fixed by the open source community for lets see...free. It's more than Microsoft "extending the olive branch" it's the benefits of such things they can do with it I see only benefits for them nothing more really for the open source base why, simply because open source can currently run on microsoft, in any event the open source market is a niche market trust me when a company looks at what they have to pay for licensed software verses open source they always come to open source for it and the new wave of paying for support is the way the open source community can pave there way not only to consumers hearts but into buying these products. It's one thing that open source communities need to do to ensure sales and someone purchasing their software through heavy support and ensuring that the product can be continued (upgrades) you offer that your product can move and go forward in this so called world of "Must be Microsoft Approved"

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Microsoft has Windows Update which is a pretty good start to a repository system. I think ultimately though, it's still too volitile. - Microsoft opens Windows Update to third party software packages in addition to the now hosted third party drivers - share holders loose there minds as Microsoft reduces barriers to choice by providing easy access to products which compete directly against Microsoft's own merchandise. - Microsoft opens Windows Update to select third party software providers - governments loose there minds dragging MS into court over anti-trust accusations due to providing all except competitive applications through the Windows Update repository. I've said before that the repository system is something that would help Windows end users exponentially but that company politics if not corporate law won't allow it at this time. I'd like to be proven wrong if only for the potential reduction in malicious installs.

jwats0560
jwats0560

Let me first say I love Microsoft apps, but their operating systems sucks so bad it should come with a box of straws. Open source has produced apps just as good as MS and the linux operating system is too superior and advanced to catch with paid staff. This is obviously a ploy to pull some of the talent from open source linux to open source MS. It is their dream and our nightmare, but it is a free world and if enough people want to develop on that pile of sand go for it. Then they will come out with Microsoft Open Source version 2015 ad nauseum . I am retired and have been around since you programmed with toggle switches and I hope to one day see Microsoft totally free and open source and all programs running on any computer. Just in case though I went ahead and bought grave plots for me and the wife. jwats

b2e
b2e

I'm not really surprised by this as MS haven't been innovatative for a long time and this enables them to cherry pick great ideas cheaply. Secondly it will take away development resources from Linux which has been rapidly catching up and now used on new ideas in developing technologies.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

My pessimism doesn't see big business play well enough together to create such a consortium. Third party repositories may be possible but even then, it'd likely go the way of Windows drivers signing certs becoming a revenue stream.

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