Is Microsoft Weaponizing Open Source Software?

March 29, 2012

I am not an expert on open source. In fact, anything with the word “open” in it makes me nervous. After all, I used to work at Halliburton’s Nuclear Utility Services unit. I prefer the word “closed.”

I read “Microsoft Takes MVC into the Open with Community Patches and Bug Fixes.” Quite an interesting write up. The main point is that Microsoft is getting some ideas about open source and how free and open software can be used by a fiercely commercial enterprise. I thought, “Hmmm. I wonder if the founders of open source assumed that an outfit like Microsoft would weaponize the open source approach?”

How infiltration works.

For me, the main point of the write up is that Microsoft is weaponizing free and open source software. Quite a good idea, and it takes the IBM Eclipse and Lucene initiatives in an interesting new direction. Compared to IBM’s approach, Microsoft is moving with the low profile of a Navy Seal unit engaging in a crowded mall. Here’s the passage I noted:

ASP.NET MVC, Microsoft’s Web application framework, has been open sourced since its first version, and was switched to Microsoft’s permissive license in 2009. However, there’s a difference between open development and mere open source (as those following Android’s development will be well aware). Previously, the source was available, but its development was Microsoft’s sole concern; third parties had no ability to suggest changes or contributions of their own, and little ability to comment on the work that Microsoft was doing. Under the new development model, developers will be able to see the product as it’s being created, right down to the level of individual code changes, bug-fixes, and new features. Perhaps most significantly of all, for the first time Microsoft will be accepting patches and contributions from third parties to the product. If you have a fix for a bug or some code for a new feature, you could see it integrated into the mainline ASP.NET MVC tree. The first such update has already been accepted. This patch came from Miguel de Icaza, founder of Mono, the open source implementation of the .NET stack.

As the write up points out, Microsoft still decides what gets integrated and what does not.

On one hand, Microsoft may be realizing that in house teams cannot accomplish certain tasks. Instead of fighting those who are fed up with certain bugs and functions, Microsoft is just letting outsiders remediate the often buggy, bloated, and performance challenged code.

On the other hand, Microsoft may be wrapping itself in the free and open source software flag, getting the names of those who are able to fix up Microsoft’s offerings, and taking steps to make its systems more widely available to those who otherwise would ignore such fine products as SharePoint and Fast Search.

This is indeed an interesting development, but it is one that IBM has pursued for quite a while. Microsoft, like Google, often arrives late at some parties. Microsoft may be arriving with some weaponized open source just to liven up the hoe down. Will Fast Search be pushed into the open source community?

Stephen E Arnold, March 29, 2012

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One Response to “Is Microsoft Weaponizing Open Source Software?”

  1. Chris Pliakas on March 29th, 2012 1:29 pm

    “As the write up points out, Microsoft still decides what gets integrated and what does not.”

    This quote makes me think there is a vast misunderstanding of how open source works. Open source isn’t a free for all where anyone and everyone has the ability to commit code to the master repository. The vast majority of projects have a company or group of individuals that control what gets in, despite the fact that everyone who has the ability can propose changes and improvements.

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