The real reason behind Microsoft's leap into open source

Microsoft has created a new open source subsidiary. Is this a sign of greater openness, or are there darker motives?

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The third and fourth points were part of the reason Microsoft started the Outercurve Foundation as a destination to outsource open source projects it wanted to start -- while isolating itself from any perceived risks its imaginative legal time might envisage. Of the four possible reasons, those two seem most likely to me. I think Microsoft Open Technologies is a legal firewall to allow greater engagement with open source without diminishing Microsoft's ability to be a patent bully elsewhere. Jean Paoli says:

This structure will make it easier and faster to iterate and release open source software, participate in existing open source efforts, and accept contributions from the community. Over time the community will see greater interaction with the open standards and open source worlds.

Just like Qualcomm's earlier Qualcomm Innovation Center, Microsoft Open Technologies provides an ideal firewall to protect Microsoft from the risks it has been alleging exist in open source and open standards, while engaging more. Why wasn't the Outercurve Foundation enough to achieve this goal? I don't know, and neither does Outercurve -- Microsoft took this step without consulting or even advising the group, according to executive director Paula Hunter.

A firewall like this has benefits to Microsoft all around. It reduces the need for overcaution by Microsoft's large and conservative legal department, allowing it to respond to the inevitability of open source without constant pushback from corporate process. From that perspective, it's good news for open source. But it also frees Microsoft to continue and expand its aggressive exploitation of its patent portfolio against genuine open source innovators, leaving Microsoft Open Technologies to pick up the pieces each time the community is caught in the friendly fire of another monetization exploit.

Is this subsidiary good news or bad news for open source? Time will tell, but the trend is a good one, away from overt hostility and toward positive engagement. While Microsoft is still internally divided about open source, with a change of leadership right at the top, these structures could spell a changed company. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll see core Microsoft products complementing and serving the open source market and community rather than just grudgingly conceding its existence.

This article, "The real reason behind Microsoft's leap into open source," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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