There has in the past been a wide chasm between perspectives regarding commercial software and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS).  On the one side, FOSS is about the sharing of ideas and fostering communities of passionate software professionals and hobbyists to build great software that anyone can download and use.  On the other side, commercial software places a financial value on the software a company develops and offers and the expectation is that their customers provide compensation for that software in some form (usually paying for a license or subscription).

Paul Laberge

Despite the well-documented history between these two camps, the gap is closing and both are starting to see that they need each other to not only survive but also to thrive in this brave new world of cloud computing and services-based software. By doing so, developer communities from open source and companies like Microsoft will grow together, for the benefit of customers. This is why open source is increasingly becoming part of Microsoft’s developer DNA.

For example, in Canada Microsoft has participated actively in WordCamp Toronto and Montreal, GovCamp and hosts an annual open source conference called Make Web Not War.  Microsoft has also participated in significant open source and open data initiatives with the Cities of Edmonton and Vancouver. 

In addition to active participation in FOSS communities, Microsoft has introduced a number of free (albeit not necessarily open-sourced) tools that help developers from the enterprise to the hobbyist create great software without having to pay royalties or other fees.  Examples  include  Web Platform Installer which allows developers to install popular FOSS web applications like WordPress and Drupal on Windows (in fact, Microsoft has increased its partnership with WordPress significantly by moving users of its Windows Live Spaces to WordPress).  Microsoft has also introduced free tools like WebMatrix (a tool to build websites) and the Express suite of development IDE’s and databases as well as associations like the Codeplex Foundation (recently made independent and is now called Outercurve) which helps open source developers by providing a framework to allow their participation in corporate projects.

These are but a few examples of what Microsoft is doing in the Open Source space. While it is true corporations engage in open source forums to drive developer behaviours toward their platform in a positive way, that is by no means the only reason. We see opportunities to partner with these communities that consist of highly motivated and intelligent developers – and business people – to build even greater value for each other’s customers and audiences.  We continue to work with various open source communities to improve the performance of open source applications and tools on our platforms.

The size of the open source development community and the passion behind its work is clear and transparent.  Its developers in terms of sheer numbers have the power to shape where technologies go and how platforms are adopted.  A great example is in the adoption of open source technologies like PHP.  Some of the biggest websites run on PHP – Facebook is the one that comes to mind immediately, another is WordPress

So the question then becomes not how commercial software companies can increase the chasm with the open source community, but rather how can they collaborate with open source communities to build viable solutions that benefit everyone. 

Questions? Check out Paul’s presention, “Microsoft Loves PHP.  Yes, Seriously.” at Toronto Open Source Week on October 29 at 3:00PM ET at Seneca College’s Free Software and Open Source Symposium or on Twitter @plaberge.

Paul Laberge is a Web platform advisor with Microsoft Canada, which basically means that he works with web developers and designers to help them understand Microsoft’s web platform, both the good and the bad. When he doesn’t have his head in Expression Studio or Visual Studio, he can be found grilling on his patio barbeque (even in the dead of winter) or throwing his clubs into a creek after another dismal round of golf. He has spoken at several Open Source conferences in the past few years, including WordCamp Toronto and ConFoo.

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