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Microsoft: an end to open hostilities?

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First branded as a communist plot, then derided as a form of cancer, before being upgraded to merely a 'grey spectre', free and open source software (FOSS) has had a pretty rough ride from Microsoft over the years. For many in the open source community, the company represents all that is troubling about closed source software development. Recently, though, there have been developments that at least one leading open source developer has labelled a 'sea change' following last year's announcement that Microsoft was to become sponsors of the Apache Software Foundation (ASF).

Microsoft surprised many in the open source community for a second time in July 2009 by actually committing some of its own, hand-crafted-in-Redmond code to the Linux kernel. Initial reaction to the news ranged from shocked delight to deep suspicion and things took a turn for the worse a few days later when further information about the reasons behind the decision seemed to confuse matters. What at first had been officially described by Microsoft as 'a break from the ordinary', and had been talked up in blogs by various software engineers at the company, turned a little sour when open source advocates and commentators began to question the real motives behind the move. Just as debate about this had started to die down, Microsoft pulled another rabbit from the hat. In mid-September 2009, the company announced the launch of a not-for-profit organisation, The Codeplex Foundation, set up with the aim of exchanging code and furthering the understanding of open source among 'commercial' companies.

These recent events neatly encapsulate the continuing saga of the relationship between Microsoft and the FOSS communities. Whilst some believe that significant change is underway at Microsoft, many are not so easily convinced. They worry that there is more 'spin' than substance to the company's various open source initiatives, and others point to past exploits as evidence of Microsoft's inability to change. In this respect there are three key events that have drawn attention to the company's interest in open source development: Microsoft's sponsorship of the ASF, the MS-Novell deal, and an agreement with the Open Source Initiative (OSI) to certify two Microsoft licences.

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