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February 7, 2012

Microsoft Drinks Open Source Kool-Aid

Robert Gelber

Microsoft is committing itself to the concept of “openness” through some rather surprising new initiatives and partnerships—as well as through its very open new site devoted to letting users know just how much they love open source.

Most recently they emphasized this commitment by shedding the hope that they’d find a proprietary replacement for Hadoop and simply announcing solutions for the enterprise market that would cater to the elephant in the room. The company announced that this open source offering would be fully integrated with Windows Server and Windows Azure.

Of course, this is quite the 180 turn given Microsoft’s previous stances on open source. Back in 2001, CEO Steve Ballmer was quoted as saying Linux is a cancer”. Even as recently as 2007, Microsoft made claims that Linux & open source violated 235 of its patents.

Something changed over the past few years though, as in 2008, when Microsoft invested $100,000 in the Apache Foundation. There doesn’t appear to be anymore cancer talk either. Take for example this 2009 Network World interview with Jean Paoli, Microsoft’s general manager of interoperability strategy, where he says “We love open source” and goes on to say “We understand our mistake.

What made Microsoft change its mind? The answer may simply be customer demand. In 2009, Microsoft delivered 20,000 lines of code to the Linux community. In an interview with PressPass, Sam Ramji, senior director of Platform Strategy, had this to say about the change in stance:

“We are seeing Microsoft communities and open source communities grow together, which is ultimately of benefit to our customers. The Linux community, for example, has built a platform used by many customers. So our strategy is to enhance interoperability between the Windows platform and many open source technologies, which includes Linux, to provide the choices our customers are asking for.” So Microsoft, listening to its customers is beginning to warm up to the open source.

So the last question is, how will Microsoft integrate an open source solution with its current offerings?  Andrew Brudst gives a detailed account of how the integration will work, Microsoft has created an Excel add-in for Hive, which provides a SQL-like abstraction over Hadoop and MapReduce. The add-in is based on an ODBC driver, which in turn is compatible with PowerPivot, so business users can do meaningful analysis on big data, on their own terms.”  And because the same engine that drives PowerPivot has been implemented inside Analysis Services in SQL Server 2012, that product has access to Hadoop now, too.

With that, Microsoft has joined the big data and enterprise BI worlds. It has also tied together SQL Server and Hadoop.” So it looks like Microsoft has come a long way from warring with open source competition and has not only called a truce, but decided to embrace open source solutions to augment their own business practices.

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