Jean Paoli, the president of Microsoft Open Tech, called today to discuss the accomplishments of the wholly owned subsidiary as it celebrates its first anniversary. More than 50 open-source projects have been contributed by the company, and that leaves little doubt as to Microsoft’s commitment to working with open-source projects and building them into their own products.
The goal of the company, Paoli said, is to advance Microsoft’s investments in interoperability, open source and open standards. Speaking personally, Paoli, who helped invent XML some 17 years ago and has been with Microsoft just as long, said, “I’ve always had at the core of my belief that the free flow of data and documents between platforms is key to the Internet. Today, it’s expected that you can read your e-mail from anywhere, for example.” When things are connected, he continued, there has to be interoperability. “I call it the openness revolution,” he said.
Paoli went on to say that what changed everything was the Internet itself. Today, Microsoft Open Tech is working to help define the Open Web, he added, by contributing to such projects as HTTP 2.0, WebRTC, and such services as OData, AMQP and WS-Management. Microsoft Open Tech’s full-time employees work with people in the various open-source communities to advance the projects, and Microsoft also has a program called Open Tech Hub, through which Microsoft engineers are “loaned” to Open Tech as subject matter experts for the duration of whatever project their expertise is in, he explained.
The anniversary celebration gives us a chance to think about how Microsoft was perceived by open-source communities back when Paoli began with the company: Big, Bad Redmond, who only wanted to either crush open-source projects or buy them out. My how times have changed. Today, Microsoft contributes to such cutting-edge, innovative projects as Redis, Node.js, HTML5 and many more. As part of the anniversary celebration, Microsoft has relaunched the Open Tech website and blog, and you can read all about the work it’s doing on those projects there.
How did Microsoft overcome that early mistrust to gain entry into these communities? “It’s about trust and knowing the actual people,” Paoli said. “And, when we come, we bring code. Our approach is engineering-driven.”
Paoli said Microsoft is not looking to take over projects, but simply to work on those projects that will make Microsoft’s software run and perform well on multiple platforms, which, he noted, was the original premise behind XML: enabling multiple platforms to exchange documents and data seamlessly.
“When we went to [Node.js], there was a problem with the architecture that prevented it from working well on Windows,” Paoli recalled. “So we engineered a solution that not only improved Windows performance, but also significantly improved performance on Linux. We try to align our interests with the community at large.”
Of course, Microsoft will continue to try to best its competition in the marketplace. It’s not all hand-holding and “Kumbaya.”
“Competition will always be here,” Paoli said. “Just because a project is open source doesn’t mean we won’t compete with a product based on it. At the same time, collaboration and choice are important. Customers expect their device of choice will work with all services. They expect it to work as magic.”