Microsoft Ex-Pats Developing Open Source Software Outside of Redmond

by Mark on May 7, 2008

It seems that open source maven, Matt Asay along with well-known Microsoft blogger Mary Jo Foley have come to the conclusion that Microsoft doesn’t need open source. Asay contends that Microsoft’s open source activity has more to do with regulators than best practices and user collaboration.

Microsoft’s open-source charade is not about customers. It’s about regulators. Until Microsoft can convince U.S. and European regulators that its market power is not as bad as it once was, the company will need to hide behind expressions of openness.

Hence, Microsoft “opens” up its protocols (i.e., lets everyone read but not touch…without forking over cash). It inks “open” interoperability agreements with Novell and others, which actually do nothing more than bind otherwise open-source success to Microsoft’s proprietary technology. Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith acknowledges the shift, or lack thereof:

“It is (a change in philosophy) in some significant ways and yet it has also other aspects that are a continuation and we’re probably thinking a little bit about both pieces,” Smith said, explaining Microsoft’s twin thrusts of promoting intellectual property rights by encouraging interoperability among various software platforms.Business as usual. Just under the openness guise.

I suspect that’s a reasonable assumption. Though the folks working in open source software from Microsoft like Sam Ramji seem pretty sincere. With Bill Gates retiring and Microsoft’s initiatives on open source wouldn’t it be a sardonic turn of events for open source spread like a virus inside the walls of Redmond (especially since that’s how detractors likes to describe open source software).

There are a number of ventures run by ex-Microsofties who are seeing success. Maybe the the question real question is, “How far does the apple fall from the tree?”

Redmond Refugees Driving Open Source

Last week Black Duck Software run by a former Microsoft employee, Doug Levin, acquired Koders an open source repository and search engine. Likewise Software, the maker of an open source unified authentication product was started by some ex-Microsoft employees. Starting as a proprietary software maker they eventually moved to a open source development model and have gotten involved with the popular open source Samba project. Finally, MindTouch an open source wiki developer is run by ex-Microsoft employees and has seen great success with their open source project. All the companies mentioned above are run by ex-Micrsoft employees and all seem to be having decent success in open source.

Deki Wiki and Application Collaboration

One of my favorite open source projects is Deki Wiki by MindTouch. The product solves many of the same problems as Microsoft Sharepoint. More so than Sharepoint, DekiWiki extends its collaboration beyond people to the application layer. Rather than striving to be an all-in-one solution Deki Wiki boasts a robust web services API that allows for integration between other applications. Already Deki Wiki supports authentication via LDAP and Active Directory as well as authentication systems from popular open source content management systems like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla!.

Today was the release of MIndTouch’s v8.05 (codenamed Jay Cooke) which was largely driven by requirements from the Mozilla Foundation (who will be relaunching their developer community using Deki Wiki). I like to see open source projects use open source software when they get the chance. Sometimes I think we do that because of solidarity among free software developers. However, in the case of Deki Wiki I think that it’s safe to say that Deki Wiki is not only open source, but also best of breed. I have raved about Deki Wiki before but this release has some very cool new features. Through web services you can enable real time chat, embed Google spreadsheets, query databases, and include interactive maps from Google and Windows Live.

One feature that really caught my eye was the new polygot feature that give you the ability to provide language support at the page and user level. I suspect this feature is especially useful to companies who want to easily provide content in a number of different languages. It’s also a very nice platform for collaborative content localization.

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Another variation on the theme of application interactivity, Deki Wiki v8.05 now supports, OpenSearch. OpenSearch is a collection of simple open formats for sharing search results originally developed by Amazon and A9. Beyond these features MindTouch’s newest version includes an improved file uploader and content transforms to allow users to specify selections of text for syntax highlighting, SVG, LaTex and graphs. All and all a big step forward.

Summary

The jury is out on how significant Microsoft’s open source ambitions will affect their future plans. Many people are skeptical for the obvious reasons. In the meantime I think their is a lot of cool technology being created by these Redmond Refugees.

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