I have just attended a Microsoft Open Source Information Evening. It was in some ways one of the stranger things that I have experienced in my computer career.
Firstly there was the location, it was in a function room in the CBD, it was convenient for public transport and had good service but seemed likely to be quite expensive. A MS employee said that they believed that some people wouldn’t want to enter an MS office – I can’t imagine why they think that they could convince people who refuse to enter the MS office of anything if they got them to attend. As there were only about 6 people who weren’t from MS it seems likely that they paid something in excess of $200 per head for each non-MS delegate (I can’t imagine two function rooms, two dedicated hotel employees manning the bar, and a supply of food for a larger audience costing less than $1200).
If they had spent $100 per head for us all to have dinner at a good restaurant then I think that the result would have been better. They might want to consider running targeted meetings in future with a small number of people personally invited to dinner at a good restaurant. That said, the dinner of duck canapes and asian-style chicken noodles that they provided was pretty good.
I suggested that they should find other ways of promoting such events as the audience was obviously smaller than they desired. One suggestion that I made was that they create a blog about what MS in Australia is doing in relation to Linux and to offer the RSS feed URL to the people who run Planet Linux Australia. They were reluctant to accept that idea and stated that they don’t want to be seen to be forcing their presence where they are not wanted. That is a good approach (and a contrast to some activities of MS in the past). But I believe that it is misguided in terms of RSS feeds. When you create a blog you make the RSS feed available and then the people who run syndication services have the option of using it. The Linux community is on the side of open discussion, I don’t think that we have anything to fear from hearing what MS people have to say. While my opinion of MS has improved this evening, I still have no interest in using any of their software. Linux just works really well and satisfies all of my needs.
There were a bunch of smart MS people there, they seemed to really care about their work and want to improve things. Their pitch was about how Open Source software works on Windows, they showed demos of the installation process for a variety of PHP programs and showed Python code being used in a MS web environment. Most of the presentation time involved technologies developed outside of MS, while there was obviously a lot of MS code involved in getting Python, Ruby, PHP, etc working well the focus was mostly on the free software. They also mentioned some of their work in opening APIs so that free software programs can access Exchange servers (among other things). I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to the technology as I’m never going to use it. I was more interested in their approach which was positive and respectful and the general trend of what they are doing.
It seems that there is an increasing number of people within MS who realise that free software is not going away and that their customers demand that things work together.
They also didn’t display any of the arrogance for which MS is known. When one of the delegates predicted that MS would take a fall the way IBM did there was no argument about that possibility, instead there was a discussion about how MS software can be used with software from other sources to meet the current and future needs of customers.
The discussion of software patents was generally not very productive, I got the impression that they were not permitted to give anything that I would have considered to be a good answer to any of the questions. They did show examples of software that they have released with RAND terms for patents and other situations in which there would be no patent liabilities. But it seems that MS as a whole has no interest in getting any of the patent problems fixed. I can only hope that IBM, NEC, or one of the other big patent companies will give MS a demonstration of why software patents are bad.
Finally I was given a couple of 8GB USB sticks and a copy of MS Expression Studio 2. If anyone wants the unopened copy of Expression Studio they can make me an offer by email.