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Introducing the Open Source Rookie of the Year... Whoa, it's Microsoft

You don't understand the Power of the Source

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Open ... and Shut It's déjà vu all over again for Microsoft, as Black Duck Software has named Redmond's TypeScript project among its 2012 Open Source Rookies of the Year - despite Microsoft spending nearly a decade trying to figure out this crazy communist software manifesto.

Back in 2001, Microsoft labeled open source a "cancer," "un-American," and a threat to rich software capitalists everywhere. By 2003, however, it was limping along the right track with the introduction of its Shared Source Initiative, and not long after started releasing open-source code of its own and creating its own open-source software lab.

So why is Microsoft still considered an open-source rookie in 2013, 10 years later?

Yes, I understand that Black Duck's awards reference important new projects, and don't necessarily reference the companies behind them. This is why Yahoo!, which has its share of open-source successes (Hadoop, anyone?) and Twitter can also appear on the list.

But there's something different about Microsoft. At times it feels like it really does fit the "open source rookie" moniker.

Perhaps it's because open source has never infiltrated Microsoft's core DNA in the same way it has Facebook - or even Hewlett-Packard and IBM, both of which continue to make billions of dollars selling proprietary software. Ultimately, Microsoft gets paid the most money for two franchises that depend on keeping open source at arm's length: Office and Windows.

Granted, I suspect Windows doesn't have long as a licensing mint. The more mobile matters, the more Microsoft is going to need to follow its peers. Whether open-source Android or ultra-closed iOS, no one charges for an operating system anymore. Maybe this will force Microsoft to embrace open source in a fundamental, company-defining way. Back in 2009, then president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business Bob Muglia told a group of executives that "at some point, almost all of our products will have open source in [them]."

This has undoubtedly happened, if quietly, though using open source is different from embracing it. Apple is a big-time user of open source, but contributes comparatively little back, webkit and a few other projects excepted. This is a legitimate use of open source, but if Microsoft never does more than emulate this Apple characteristic it will not have truly understood the power of open source.

There are promising signs at Microsoft, however, and they go well beyond its open-source code repository, CodePlex, or the inclusion of open-source software in its proprietary products. For me, the biggest open source news from Microsoft in years is its decision to incorporate support for Git, Linus Torvalds' baby and the new standard for open-source projects, into both Team Foundation Server and Visual Studio. With Microsoft finally understanding how developers want to code, it's that much closer to open source reality.

As Klint Finley writes:

"Microsoft has started to recognize that if it wants popular open source software to run on Windows, it may have to build it itself."

Building these bridges to Git is just part of this shift at Microsoft, which started years ago with support for Drupal and other open-source technology, but arguably gets deeply serious with Git. Git is at the heart of how open-source developers do what they do.

Now Microsoft is embracing this developer ethos. Hardly a rookie mistake. ®

Matt Asay is vice president of corporate strategy at 10gen, the MongoDB company. Previously he was SVP of business development at Nodeable, which was acquired in October 2012. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe (now part of Facebook) and 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 three times a week on The Register. You can follow him on Twitter @mjasay.

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