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Microsoft Joins Open Source Census Group

Microsoft has joined the Open Source Census as a sponsor, according to an announcement issued by OpenLogic, which founded the group. The Open Source Census project tracks the use of open source software by the business community. Survey results are updated on an ongoing basis at the group's Web site.

The group today reported that "more than 220,000 open source package/project installations" are being used by Open Source Census survey participants. In addition, about half of the Linux users surveyed chose the Ubuntu distribution. The top five open source packages were "Firefox, Xerces, Zlib, Xalan and Prototype," respectively.

Joining the group at the "Friends" level are "ActiveState, EnterpriseDB and OSAlt.com." A new sponsor, in addition to Microsoft, is the Oregon State University Open Source Lab.

The Microsoft name stands out as a new sponsor mainly because the company has been involved with open source for only a few years, and hasn't always been friendly to it. Sam Ramji, Microsoft's senior director of platform strategy cites a history extending back just four years, when Microsoft first established its Linux Lab.

More recently, in February of this year, Microsoft announced a broad program, backed by Chief Architect Ray Ozzie, that would support developers working with Microsoft's software, including open source developers. Back then, the company announced that it would provide open application programming interfaces to its core software products, and publish software protocol documentation.

Some of that documentation, about 14,000 pages, was released a few months ago. The documentation describes protocols used in Microsoft Office 2007, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007.

Still, skeptics such as the Software Freedom Law Center had declared back in March that Microsoft's interoperability principles were essentially contrary to GNU General Public Licensing, an agreement that permits code sharing and future software improvements without triggering patent violations.

The Open Source Census project's work is public and supported by a number of open source solution providers and organizations, including CollabNet and the Open Solutions Alliance. Sponsors like Microsoft do not get much more from the survey information than what is publicly disclosed.

"If you sponsor The Open Source Census, you receive a quarterly extract of the data," explained Kim Weins, senior vice president of products and marketing for OpenLogic, in an e-mailed response. "Data is still anonymous (no names, emails, IP addresses or companies). The benefit is that you can slice and dice the data in additional ways beyond what is provided on the public website."

Participants submitting data to the Open Source Census will be able to compare their company with similar companies, with all of the identifying information removed, Weins explained. They get access to an area on the group's Web site to do the comparisons.

Weins said that the Open Source Census uses OSS Discovery, which is "an open source scanning tool available under the AGPL license." It finds open source packages on a single machine and creates an inventory, Weins added.

"There is no personally identifying information submitted so we do not capture or store participant names, company names, email addresses or IP addresses," Weins wrote.

In addition, the tool doesn't track the various open source licenses used, nor does it track alleged breaches of those licenses, Weins said. That may come as a relief for those fearing Microsoft's involvement in the project. For instance, Microsoft has alleged that open source software infringes on 235 of its software patents.

Microsoft of late has worked with the open Eclipse project and has its Codeplex open source portal for developers. It has also recently teamed with Zend Technologies to help PHP code run better on Windows operating systems. Microsoft even stepped in to remove its Sandcastle application from an open source project when it was found that the source code wasn't supplied.

Ramji cited the mixed computing environment at the enterprise level to explain Microsoft's participation in the Open Source Census.

"Our customers, partners and developers are working in increasingly heterogeneous environments, and our participation in industry projects like The Open Source Census are relevant for the ecosystem in which we participate," Ramji wrote in a prepared statement.

Veteran Microsoft watcher, Mary Jo Foley, opined in her All About Microsoft blog that competition with open source might also be a motivation for Microsoft.

"I'm sure that Microsoft also wants a better understanding of where/how open-source software is gaining traction in enterprises in order to better fight it."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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