Microsoft’s Linux Lab?

Blane Warrene

ZDNetAsia ran an interesting article earlier this month that reflects a somewhat more mature view of open source internally at Microsoft.

It is obvious that a scorched earth policy on open source will not work for Microsoft, as they have discovered after previous attempts at using inflammatory remarks to debase Linux. Thus the company has started building an internal sandbox within which to explore Unix variants from Linux to Solaris to Apple’s OS X. The Windows maker is using Bill Hilf, a lifelong Unix/Linux expert to manage a lab that provides under the hood access to the competing OS.

I find it fascinating the trials and tribulations of setting up the lab – which Hilf reveals in the piece. It also suggests possible positive results of the exercise – that possible improvements to open source applications might be contributed from Microsoft’s Linux Lab and that Microsoft may be able and willing to improve how its systems interact with competing operating systems. This would be a necessary evil for them as many large Microsoft customers largely also run Unix variants side by side with Windows boxes.

Hilf may also be one of the drivers behind the company’s recent outreach to the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) for a shared study on Windows and Linux. However, at first glance I have to agree with OSDL leader Stuart Cohen’s reaction in that same article:

“As far as working with Microsoft on a study, Microsoft could probably find one negative line on Linux in a 100-page research report that it would spend $10 million marketing while ignoring the other 99 pages.”