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Last Updated: Monday, 13 November 2006, 15:41 GMT
Microsoft 'not competing' with open source
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (right) and Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian
Microsoft announced its technical collaboration with Novell on 2 November
Software giant Microsoft is not intent on competing with the open source community and is seeking further tie-ups with it, an executive at the company has said.

Earlier this month, a long-running dispute between Microsoft and Novell, which sells one version of the Linux open source software, was settled.

It enabled Microsoft's Windows operating system to work better with Linux.

Bill Hilf, general manager of platform strategy at Microsoft and the man who runs open source strategy across Microsoft, told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme that, while Microsoft competes with commercial products based on open source, "we do not compete with the open source community".

"That clarity is super-important for the user, be it a developer or an everyday user of a computer, to know where Microsoft stands," he added.

"It's not as polar as people think. Are we going to compete every day with products that come out of commercial and open source? Of course. But we're not competing with the open source community."

Reciprocal learning

Until recently, Microsoft had been reluctant to allow its products to work alongside Linux, which is the most well-known of the products developed by the open source community.

Bill Thompson
The deal with Novell was a bit of a surprise, and there's a fear amongst certain parts of the free open source part of the community that this is an attempt to 'hedge off' some companies
Technology expert Bill Thompson
But Mr Hilf said that Microsoft had found that, once it began talking to Novell, there were a lot of similarities between the two - although this did not mean that Novell would be the only open source company it would talk to.

"I actually anticipate other arrangements like this in the future," he said.

"I'm not promising anything... but we don't view any singular body as all open source, and nor should anyone."

And he added Microsoft is now seeing "reciprocal learning" with open source, which presents a challenge for both sides.

"No one person represents open source at all - that's part of the power of it," he said.

Innovations

Mr Hilf, who himself spent 12 years working as an open source developer before joining Microsoft, said that the goals of people working within both commercial and open source were actually "much aligned".

"There is the same amount of frustration, the same amount of angst, the same amount of passion - it just happens in a different form," he said.

"So, literally, in my first week [at Microsoft] I saw a great opportunity. They're not two different sides of the tribes. It was really how to bridge people who are a lot more alike than most people know."

Technology commentator Bill Thompson told Digital Planet that Microsoft would be "foolish" to disregard developments in the open source movement, from where a number of good ideas and innovations were coming.

And he added that the software giant will be judged not by the result of the Novell settlement, but by how it moves next.

"The deal with Novell was a bit of a surprise, and there's a fear amongst certain parts of the free open source part of the community that this is an attempt to 'hedge off' some companies and say 'these are the legitimate ones we will work with; we'll leave others outside'," he explained.

"That's not inevitable at all, but there is historically some suspicion of Microsoft's motives. So it will be interesting to see how these things progress.

"Deals with other organisations will go a long way to reassure the community that what's happening here is about building better software and serving users better, rather than Microsoft's corporate advantage."


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