Respectful Competition

Microsoft, Linux camps continue wary dance.

Any developers who thought Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin's recent advice to open sourcers to stop bashing Microsoft signaled some kind of rapprochement between the rival OSes should think again.

During his keynote speech at the LinuxWorld 2007 event in San Francisco, Zemlin advised Linux developers to stop wasting their time demonizing Microsoft and to give credit where credit is due. "There are some things that Windows does pretty well," he said, "as a competitor."

"When my remarks were reported, most of them left off those last three words," Zemlin tells RDN. "Microsoft is arguably the most successful software company in history. ... What I'm saying to the community and the industry is we need to look, with respect, at our competitor's strengths and weaknesses."

Learning Points
Microsoft, for example, makes sure third-party software runs on its OSes across the different versions. "That makes it very easy for the consumer," he says, "and that has allowed Microsoft to create a very robust third-party software ecosystem. We could do a better job of that, in terms of balancing standardization with the pace of innovation across the different versions of the Linux platform, and from release to release."

Where does open source trump Microsoft? "The open source community and Linux have one fundamental and enduring strength over Windows: the open source development model," he says. "It's simply superior to the proprietary development model. ... I mean, look how long it took Microsoft to release Vista."

'Sympathetic Counterparts'
Gartner Inc. analyst George Weiss sees Zemlin's remarks as somewhat conciliatory, but mainly as a call to open sourcers to pay attention to what their chief competitor is doing correctly. "[Zemlin] is one of the broader-minded individuals in the open source community," Weiss observes. "He has that capacity to look at both sides. Frankly, he's a breath of fresh air."

Weiss points out that Microsoft, in turn, is approaching open source more amicably. In fact, he sees Bill Hilf, general manager of Microsoft's technical platform strategy group, as a "sympathetic counterpart" to Zemlin.

"They're cut from the same cloth, as far as I'm concerned," Weiss says. "Bill could have been a leading light in the open source community if he'd chosen a different branch, and he was once in that world. However, both Jim and Bill are very competitive people, and I'd expect to see them continue to fight hard for their respective camps. I think it's a strength that they can see the other side's views as well."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at

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