Microsoft received plaudits and criticism for its openness efforts at the MIX08 event Thursday with a Microsoft official also citing an overture toward the Eclipse Foundation for open source tooling.
During a panel session, officials from Microsoft, Mozilla, and Microsoft business partner Zend Technologies debated issues ranging from patents to open source and the planned Linux version of Microsoft's Silverlight multimedia plug-in technology, called Moonlight. Novell plans to release Moonlight in June, although a beta release already has been available.
Microsoft's Sam Ramji, director of open source and Linux strategy, said after the session that in two weeks, Microsoft will reveal plans to collaborate with open source Eclipse Foundation projects. Those details are to be aired at the EclipseCon conference in Santa Clara, Calif., on March 19. Microsoft has been one of the industry's few holdouts from Eclipse participation. (The foundation declined to comment afterward.) Microsoft also plans to work with the Apache Software Foundation.
"I think Microsoft has made tremendous progress," in becoming open, said Andi Gutmans, CTO at Zend Technologies, which offers software for running PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) applications on Windows platforms.
"Microsoft's business was built out of open APIs," Ramji said. But in the last decade, the bar in open source has been raised beyond open APIs, he said. (Separate from Tuesday's panel session, Microsoft offered on Monday Silverlight 2 controls via open source; these controls provide different capabilities for developers.)
Ramji also noted the company's recent decision to open access to various Microsoft technologies. "Obviously, we did announce the interoperability commitment that the company has made in opening the specifications," he said. The company also has made moves to work better with Firefox. "Piece by piece, I think we’re transitioning to [increasingly] support open development," Ramji said.
But questions were raised about Novell's arrangement with Microsoft pertaining to Moonlight. Novell's Miguel de Icaza, a Novell vice president in charge of the open source Moonlight project, said Novell gets access to the regression test suite and codecs from Microsoft as well as to technical people inside Microsoft.
Novell has a patent covenant with Microsoft pertaining to Silverlight. As far as whether these covenants would be extended to third parties, that is something Microsoft would have to discuss, he said. "I wish they were different and anybody could get them, but that is not the case," de Icaza said.
Ramji said persons who download Moonlight from Novell do not have to pay for it. But Mozilla vice president of engineering Mike Schroepfer raised the issue of complicated intellectual property patent restrictions and known patents pertaining to Moonlight. De Icaza cited Microsoft's history of not suing anyone over this issue.
Schroepfer noted Mozilla's own shunning of patents. "We don't hold any patents. We don't have any form of indemnification from anyone," Schroepfer said.
One of the longstanding tensions in open source development has been the existence of patents and settling these issues, Ramji said. "[This] becomes a question of U.S. business law," said Ramji.