MS ‘open' to change

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That's the message the company would like to share with the Open Source Software world..

Vijay Rajagopalan
Vijay Rajagopalan

On Windows Azure you can write your applications in a language of your choice.

M. Ramesh

When Vijay Rajagopalan's cousin learnt that Vijay had landed in Chennai to take part in an open source software conference in the city, he (the cousin) let out a snigger of sarcasm. “ You are here for an OSS conference?”

 The cousin's jeer was understandable. Vijay works for Microsoft. He is ‘Principal Architect & Sr Director for Microsoft's Interoperability & Platform Strategy' in Seattle. And Microsoft has, for long, been considered the diametric opposite of ‘open source'. Microsoft is reputed to be a ‘closed source', where the underlying software codes are kept a secret (as opposed to ‘open source', where, like Wikipedia material, it is open for anyone to play around and improve upon).

 A loyal Microsoftite, Vijay did not let it go. He took pains to explain to his cousin how his company had changed over the years and how ‘open' it was today.

 Thanks to his cousin, Vijay's evangelism began at home. (Vijay's parents live in Chennai). His brief was indeed to carry forward the very message he gave his cousin, to his audience at OSI Days, a three-day conference of open source software.

 More open in the bargain

Speaking at the open source conference, OSI Days 2010, Vijay said, “We have changed as a company to become more open”. The word ‘changed' was used in the same sense as ‘reformed', and through the presentation, as well as in a chat with eWorld, it was evident that the big Don of the IT world was keen on bringing about a corresponding change in the world's perception of it.

 If at all evidence was required to underline the mountain of negativism that Microsoft has still to scale, it was provided at the very next session at the OSI conference. From the chair of a panel, Lavanya Rastogi, an OSS guru, told the audience how many sponsors of the conference cried ‘no' when told that Microsoft was also a sponsor, just like a bunch of kids would shun a former bully. Rastogi said that one of them even told him, “We don't need their money”.

 Indeed Microsoft seems to have come a long way since its anti-competitive days. Today, for instance, you have the choice of a range of browsers even if you buy Windows 7 so you don't have to be wedded to the Explorer. But set impressions die hard.

 Part of Vijay's mission in Chennai was to help them die. “I am here to demonstrate how open we are, how we are encouraging interoperability and open source at Microsoft,” he said in his address, in which he would later announce the launch of new tools from Microsoft that would help applications developers to go to the company's cloud computing platform, Windows Azure, and use the tools to develop their applications.

Collaboration, not competition

Microsoft, Vijay said, does not compete with open source, it collaborates. “We have even created a division in our company to focus on open source technologies,” he said. The division is CodePlex, Microsoft's open source project housing Web site, on which today some 1,00,000 open source projects are hosted. You can use CodePlex to create new projects to share with others, join others who may have already started their own projects. A CodePlex team at Microsoft will assist users to de-bug their codes.

 Microsoft's focus is now on its cloud platform for applications development and hosting, Windows Azure — an operating system that was formally launched in February. On Windows Azure you can write your applications in a language of your choice — visual studio, dot net, java, PHP — anything. You can run your applications with Windows Azure — Microsoft will provide you as much server capacity as you may need at any point in time. For example, if you are a pizza restaurant and sell your pizzas online, there could be occasions when the demand would flex up suddenly, as for instance, during an IPL match. With Windows Azure you are on the Microsoft cloud, therefore server capacity is no problem and a customer will find no difficulty in placing an order online.

 Windows Azure also gives you storage — you can store and mine data. There is also an ‘App Fabric' which manages all applications. Microsoft has built upon these offerings to provide an application developer with tools to do his job.

 Does Windows Azure and the tools announced two weeks ago consummate the transformation process of Microsoft, from a mine-mine company to a be-my-guest one? The open source communities around the world are a passionate lot and the answer to the question would not be too complimentary. However, there are people who point out that the company that Microsoft once dislodged from the throne — Apple — has always been more closed than Microsoft, but nobody pokes Apple in the midriff.


(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 4, 2010)
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