It’s way past April Fools, so this is not a trick. on April 12 Microsoft announced they were folding their Interoperability Strategy Team into a brand new subsidiary called Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc. The new team is headed by Jean Paoli and will consist of about fifty to seventy-five full and part-time employees. Their goal? To facilitate Microsoft’s relationships with the open-source community and developers. This will make it faster and easier for Microsoft to engage with and help open source programs and teams.

There will be those out there that scoff at the idea and even don their conspiratorial hats. I, for one, believe this is an honest effort on Microsoft’s part to help bridge the communities. Why? Well, honestly, for them I’m sure it’s about the bottom line. Whether you believe it or not, open source has become an integral part of every day life for the vast majority of computer users on the planet. Apache, WordPress, Drupal, MySQL, PHP… that list of systems and software goes on and on, and it’s one that will only continue to grow and continue to become even more ingrained into the landscape of technology. Open source has finally reached a point where other technology companies must either embrace it or suffer the possible consequences of being left behind.

But what does this mean for the parties involved? I would venture to think for Microsoft it means building a better reputation and improving interoperability with the tools that web-based society depends upon. This is about continuing the push to the cloud and to do that Microsoft must depend upon open source technology. Microsoft needs to have this relationship on solid ground or they risk a possible outcome of having to re-invent a number of wheels they don’t want to have to focus on.

As for the open source community — it’s not just validation that they have become just as important to today’s computing society as is Microsoft. This is also about driving a partnership with the single biggest software company in the world. It’s about leverage. But most importantly, it’s about building a bridge to ensure their products continue to easily work with Microsoft products. This could mean that the constant (and inevitable) cycle of Microsoft breaking OS software would end. The need for reverse engineering could be a thing of the past.

One thing we all have to keep in mind is that Microsoft is in the top twenty contributors to the Linux kernel. Even before the creation of this new team, Microsoft saw the value of open source. But now, they have an entire “company” on their payroll dedicated to working for and with open source technologies. This isn’t Microsoft glad-handing — this is serious. Microsoft has finally realized the future of technology will be a conglomerate effort and that conglomeration will include open source. Microsoft isn’t the one-man wrecking machine it once was. As technology pushes further and further away from the old model, open source will become more and more crucial. The proprietary world is seeing this now and the open source community finally has an upper hand in a major game. If that hand is played well, everyone will win.