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Open... and Shut There was a time when Microsoft despised open source, because open source essentially meant "Linux," and Linux was a serious threat to Microsoft's operating system business.

While that threat remains, open source has become such a big tent that Microsoft increasingly feels at home with a broad array of open-source projects. Nowhere is this truer than in its announced support for Hadoop, the open-source software framework that dominates the Big Data movement.

In fact, given the importance of digesting massive mountains of unstructured data, Microsoft may well become as ardent an admirer of Hadoop and open source as it once was a warrior against Linux and open source.

How times change.

There was a time that open source lagged proprietary software in just about every way, from quality to UIs to documentation. But those days are long gone. IT consumerisation is being driven by open source, as Accenture argues, while much of the technology industry's most innovative work is happening within open-source communities, not proprietary software development teams.

Hadoop is the poster child for open-source innovation. Indeed, as Cisco's James Urquhart speculates: "Hadoop [is] the first instance of enterprise software where there [was] no proprietary incumbent before open source success." While there may be others, it's hard to think of a success of similar scale.

Hadoop stands alone.

Or not. In addition to Microsoft, Oracle and a number of others have rallied around the Hadoop flag. In fact, it's hard to think of any serious enterprise or consumer technology company that has not pronounced its support for Hadoop. Hadoop, in this way, is the new Linux.

Except this time even Microsoft has joined the party. Microsoft has been an active participant in a number of open-source projects for years, of course. For me, its support for jQuery was the earliest, most significant indication that open source had gone mainstream at Microsoft. There have been other indications, including Microsoft's support for Drupal, its contribution of Linux drivers, its CodePlex open-source project hosting site, not to mention its support for OpenStack (though this was accomplished through a third party, as Wired's recently recruited Cade Metz notes).

Even considering all this open source love, however, Microsoft's support for Hadoop feels like an inflection point. For me, it's the first time that Microsoft has sat at the table with serious competitors like IBM and Oracle and collaborated in a big way. Microsoft never could do the same with Linux, because Linux is a direct substitute for its Windows desktop and server businesses. But Hadoop is a significant complement to Microsoft's SQL Server and Azure products.

Hadoop seems to be the industry's common answer to the world's Big Data question. And this time, even Microsoft agrees. ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears twice a week on The Register.

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