Microsoft, Novell ponder opportunities in sour economy

At conference, companies also cite open source efforts

In separate discussions at InfoWorld's Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) on Tuesday, executives from Microsoft and Novell cited opportunities presented by the current down economy.

At Microsoft, the vendor has found that that strategic projects are still being funded in spaces such as collaboration and customer insight systems, said Sam Ramji, Microsoft director of platform strategy. "Those are strategic business investments that will just happen," Ramji said in an interview at the conference, in San Francisco. Users also seek to get more out of historical IT investments, Ramji added.

[ See also: "Suse Linux Enterprise 11 release" | Take a look at the controversial Microsoft-Novell deal, two years on. ]

In a keynote presentation, Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian cited the shrinking economy as presenting opportunities for open source.

"I fundamentally believe that open source will be the largest beneficiary of this economic downturn, hands down," Hovesepian said. Novell recently commissioned an IDC study that found that 72 percent of customers are involved in actively planning and evaluating use of Linux servers, he said. Linux desktops also are being eyed, he said.

"There's a lot of excitement around the netbook environment. It's a low-cost value proposition on the desktop," and many of them, as well as many notebooks, run Linux, said Hovsepian.

Both Ramji and Hovsepian mentioned a trend in which Windows is mixed in with other infrastructure such as Linux. Windows will be a reality in Novell customer environments, Hovsepian said.

He noted Microsoft and Novell have an interoperability partnership around Linux. That agreement, forged in November 2006, has inspired derision from open source proponents who claim it was too much of a concession to Microsoft. Hovsepian stressed that the agreement was intended to accommodate customers who run both Windows and Linux. He mentioned regret in not having done a better job of communicating benefits of the arrangement for customers.

"We're going to be living in this dual world [of Windows and Linux] whether we like it or not," he said.

Measures taken under the mantle of openness were aired by Ramji, who noted Microsoft's enablement of community participation in development of its M meta language and accommodations for the Eclipse open source IDE. The company this week will detail plans to pair the Macintosh with the Eclipse IDE to build Silverlight applications. Silverlight is Microsoft's rich Internet application platform.

Microsoft is inviting members of the modeling and language communities to participate in changing and extending the company’s M language specification. M can be used for building task-specific languages such as one for hypertext processing. Developers could write domain-specific languages, Ramji said. The company is enabling open source implementations of M and M compilers, he said.

"M can do for languages what open source has done for development," Ramji said. M is part of Microsoft's Oslo software modeling platform.

Meanwhile, Microsoft also is seeing open source software adoption on top of Windows, Ramji said. But citing a recent survey, Ramji said the server hardware market is shrinking. "This is the first time the server markets ever shrunk," he said. Still, Windows Server, Microsoft's server operating system, remains a strong performer, according to Ramji. "We've grown ahead of the market in sort of this negative growth market," he said.

Also at the conference on Tuesday, panelists from companies such as SugarCRM and Sun Microsystems pondered issues such as whether the economy was good for open source. The current economic climate presents an opportunity for open source because of cost benefits, said Marten Mickos, senior vice president of the database group for Sun/MySQL.

"That's why the recession is ultimately good for open source," said Mickos, who has been expected to depart from Sun. Asked about recent rumors pertaining to IBM supposedly looking to acquire Sun, Mickos declined to comment.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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