Microsoft Takes Lumps from Open Source Community

Redmond joins the Open Source Census in a bid to better understand and track open source deployment.

As Microsoft continues to make inroads with open source developers, it has done so in fits and starts.

Redmond's latest efforts to embrace the open source community last month drew attention after a project called Sandcastle, which used Ms-PL, was posted on Microsoft's CodePlex site under the auspices of open source though it failed to include the code.

The backlash was fast and furious, prompting Sam Ramji, director of Microsoft's Open Source Lab, to make an immediate apology and remove all Sandcastle documentation. "This is unacceptable and represents a violation of Microsoft's Open Source policy. I take it extremely seriously," Ramji wrote in his apology.

While Microsoft deserves credit for apologizing and removing Sandcastle from CodePlex, Michael Tiemann, Red Hat Inc.'s VP of open source and affairs, questioned whether it was an oversight.

"I can't believe that Microsoft's continued stumbling in the world of open source can be explained as a series of accidents," said Tiemann in an interview following an open source panel at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association Technology Management Conference 2008 in New York last month.

Tracking Open Source
Just as the buzz from the Sandcastle incident faded, Microsoft drew attention to its open source ambitions by joining the Open Source Census, whose members are all sponsoring an effort by monitoring vendor OpenLogic Inc. to try to get better data on deployments.

While not as controversial as Sandcastle, Microsoft's participation underscores the company's desire to get a better handle on how many organizations are deploying open source software, which systems and applications are used, and other demographic data.

Unlike commercial software, analysts are unable to track open source deployment because it isn't purchased, says Kim Weins, OpenLogic's senior vice president of marketing.

"Our goal is to get a handle on how much open source is being used in the enterprise," Weins says, noting that the company's Open Source Scanner (OSS) tool supports 400 different open source packages.

Weins says many enterprises don't have a grasp of how much open source is deployed within their own systems. The OSS tool allows organizations to anonymously scan their systems and ultimately submit that information without it being traced back to them. The long-term goal is to track what's being used and gather trend data.

"We'd all like to know quantitatively which open source projects are the most popular in the enterprise," writes Raven Zachary, an analyst at The 451 Group, in an e-mail. "The Open Source Census should help us in this regard, assuming that they can get enough organizations to take part."

Humble Beginnings
The effort is still in the early stages. At this point, only 1,400 computers -- mostly client-based machines -- have been scanned, making any findings statistically insignificant. Zachary says it will need to run on hundreds of thousands of computers and over a period of time in order to understand any trends. "This will take some time," he concludes.

IDC analyst Matt Lawton says it will take about a year to get meaningful numbers. IDC is a sponsor of the project, seeing it as an opportunity to get data that's not available through the typical means of tracking revenues and shipments of commercial products.

"We know that there's a lot of interest from our client base for understanding the full usage of open source software, whether it's paid or unpaid," Lawton says.

The 451 Group's Zachary acknowledges that Microsoft's participation in the Open Source Census has generated some controversy in the open source community. "I think Microsoft has a number of valid reasons for participation, including the desire to know which open source software is being run on Windows Server," he says.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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