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Participatory player

Sitting in the center and at the top of Microsoft, Utzschneider said he wants to "scale out" the evangelical work so there's greater consistency and more bodies getting to events like OSBC.

Another issue is participation. One criticism has been Microsoft's lack of consistency in the way it works with open source. In the Eclipse Community, for example, it's been working with Soyatech on Eclipse plug-ins to Visual Studio for Silverlight and Windows Azure - both under the Apache license - yet it has held back from becoming a fully paid up participating member of Eclipse.

Some of this is down to politics, some to a lack of internal coordination. Plus, there's the fact that product and business managers are empowered to make bold decisions about what code to contribute and which projects to join but that ordinary Microsoft developers - the kinds of people that keep open source ticking by submitting things like code fixes - are forbidden from donating. This is not unique to Microsoft. I t happens at other companies that "own" their employees' work under US employment law.

On projects and participation, Utzschneider promised Microsoft would increase its investments to encourage PHP developers and communities. He didn't provide further details.

As for code donations, he said a plan is already underway to clarify the internal rules on code contributions by ordinary coders to the open-source community. He would not provide further details beyond calling it a "work in progress," but when pressed, he said contributions would have to be inline with Microsoft's product goals.

"It has to be done in the context of the broader business goals so pulling together that end to end framework we can use internally is important," Utzschneider said.

Utzschneider also plans to pull together as much information as possible to catalog Microsoft's donations to open source, so it can finally articulate what it's been doing in open source. Microsoft will then lobby customers, governments, and policy makers and work with its resellers and partners to help them realize "the days of religion have gone".

Much will depend on what corporate winds are blowing inside Microsoft. Utzschneider was appointed in December after one of Microsoft's regular strategy reviews yielded a collective enlightenment on the positive benefits of working with open source.

However, things can quickly change inside a company renowned for regularly moving people around and re-organizing reporting structures. Genuine success for Microsoft in its dealings with open source will need a genuine corporate commitment that extends beyond its next review - due in the middle of this year.

Evolved thinking

The Redmond veteran said that Microsoft has evolved in its approach to open source and recognized that it makes good business sense to inter-operate with things like PHP or open-source content management systems running on its Azure cloud or on the Windows operating system.

This is also a reciprocal relationship to be had: Open sourcers are constantly looking for ways to make money, and Windows represents a large and entrenched platform for their applications to run on. Also, a growing number of Microsoft's army of SIs are working with Windows and open-source to deliver a finished product or services for customers.

"This is something we probably wouldn't have been thinking about 10 years ago in the Get the Facts environment, but it's just a reality in the world moving forward," Utzschneider said of the elevation of open-source to a position with cross-company visibility.

He was careful to point out that those behind the Halloween memos have moved on from Microsoft.

"We are quite content to say: 'Here's the value from what we are presenting and here's the value from the comp products' but we are doing that without the religion of: 'Oh my God, there's two different worlds and you have to choose one - a world where you have to pay for software and one is weird and different and free.' That's what we've moved away from as a company.

"We have to teach our sellers how to talk about open source in a new way, and the overall theme is that it's OK for open-source products and Microsoft products to work together. There's a growing Microsoft ecosystem that we are going to encourage." ®

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