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 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.