I have been arguing for years that Microsoft, perhaps more than any other company, has much to gain from open source. Think about it. Windows is the world’s biggest platform, especially when you measure it across the server, desktop, and mobile environments.
The company is starting to get it, after years of marketing FUD and other wasteful responses. With the most popular open source software - SugarCRM, Alfresco, Zend, MySQL, JBoss, etc - running on or with Windows (over 50% of the time, in many cases), it makes sense for Microsoft to support this new category (open source) into its ecosystem.
In this opportunity, however, lies Microsoft’s biggest roadblock. It’s a massive platform company and, as such, needs to be neutral to positive toward all players that enrich its platform with their applications. But Microsoft is also an applications company, with a growing database business, exploding Sharepoint business, and an already gargantuan Office business. Yes, Windows competes with Linux. But I believe Microsoft’s biggest opportunity is above the operating system, and this is where it bumps into a range of open source (and proprietary) businesses.
Josh Greenbaum of ZDNet concurs:
Microsoft, always interested in being the center of the IT universe, has realized that the carrot is just as good, if not better, than the stick. Remember the key component of an ecosystem strategy — to paraphrase an old Ann Landers column on whether a husband is considered a philanderer if he looks at another woman — it doesn’t matter where a customer works up an appetite as long as they come home to Microsoft’s technology to eat. So what if a customer is using Linux, Java, Business Objects, or something from Software AG (whatever) as long as the main platform comes from Redmond.
This is yet another example of how smart…Microsoft has become in a market where its traditional monopolies are more and more threatened. I would argue that, done rightly, being the owner of a software ecosystem could be even a better deal than just bludgening the market with monopolistic practices.
So far, Microsoft has done a good job of working with open source companies - even competitive ones - to facilitate their integration with Windows, SQL Server, etc. And so it should. The question will be whether it can continue to do so.
In short, the billion-dollar question is whether Microsoft can continue to view itself as a platform company. To the extent that it does, open source is an opportunity, not a threat.