Microsoft's Apache Deal

Redmond strengthens open source ties by joining the Apache Software Foundation and contributing a PHP-to-SQL patch.

Despite skepticism of its motives, Microsoft continues to forge ties with the open source community.

The company's latest moves came last month, when Microsoft officially joined the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) and contributed a patch to help PHP code work better with its SQL Server database. The company also clarified some implementation details of its Open Software Promise (OSP). The announcements were made at last month's O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland, Ore.

Sam Ramji, Microsoft's senior director of platform strategy, notes in his blog that Microsoft will become a platinum sponsor of the foundation, contributing administrative funds to free up resources for developers.

Critical Hire
Rather than just join the Apache Software Foundation, Microsoft should contribute by adding developers to Apache projects, says Hamilton Verissimo, founder of enterprise application developer Castle Stronghold.

"If Microsoft could get some of their employees working together with the Httpd [Apache HTTP Server Project] team to work on some interoperability issues -- for instance, hosting ASP.NET -- it would be fantastic," Verissimo says. "ASF lacks human resources more than financial resources," he adds.

In an unusual turn of events, Verissimo will join Microsoft this month as a program manager on its Managed Extensibility Framework team. Yet Verissimo, who's 29, writes in a blog posting last month that Microsoft wasn't silencing a critic by hiring him. "I'm still carrying these disagreements, my beliefs haven't shifted a bit," he writes.

Microsoft's decision to join the Apache Software Foundation reinforced Verissimo's plans to flex more muscle by joining the company, he says in an e-mail.

"Now they seem to realize they can't see open source software always as a competitor," he says. "This collaboration [with Apache] can certainly maximize sales of their server products if they work better on the Microsoft platform. The difference is that from now on I'll have a chance to make a difference, to tell people what -- in my view -- is wrong and how it could be fixed, directly."

Open Windows:  Click image for a larger view.Past Cooperation
Microsoft has previously collaborated with the ASF. For instance, in March, Microsoft announced it was contributing code to the Apache POI Project, an effort to create Java libraries that support Microsoft Office document formats.

Ramji also listed two other Apache projects in which Microsoft has participated. Those projects are Apache Axis2, which provides an interface for Web services, and Jakarta, which focuses on developing open source applications for Java platforms.

Microsoft is providing a patch to a PHP data-access layer called ADOdb to better enable interoperability with Microsoft SQL Server. Ramji says the effort represents Microsoft's "first code contribution to PHP community projects, but it will not be the last."

Microsoft previously announced collaborative efforts with Zend Technologies Ltd., a contributor to the PHP scripting language and provider of an enterprise PHP framework. In March, Microsoft certified PHP for Windows Server 2008. The two companies have also worked together to optimize PHP for Microsoft Internet Information Services.

Legal Matters
Quote: Hamilton VerissimoRamji last month pointed to a "clarification" of Microsoft's OSP, in which Microsoft opened protocols and documentation for some of its core products to developers. He said that, under the OSP, developers have "the right to intentionally subset, have partial implementations or defects in implementation of these specifications."

The OSP gives developers rights to build software "of any kind and for any purpose using these specifications, including commercial use," Ramji added.

Microsoft's OSP has previously been criticized by the Software Freedom Law Center as incompatible with the GNU General Public License (GPL), largely on the basis of developers being unable to create new versions of software when Microsoft's code is involved.

Some experts also see Apache licensing as a step down from the GPL. "The Apache license, unlike the GPL, allows Microsoft to work their open embracement enhancement strategy," says Bruce Perens, author and consultant on Linux and open source. "Microsoft is allowed to make Microsoft-specific enhancements to Apache software under a proprietary license. In other words, the open source guys wouldn't be able to share them. Now, that's not the case with Linux. Linux is under the GPL, and when you make modifications to Linux, you're supposed to share it the same way as all other coded Linux."

About the Author

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

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