Government // Enterprise Architecture
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2/3/2009
10:11 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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If Microsoft Loved Open Source, Who Would It Buy?

Could Microsoft take its cash reserves and buy an open source company? Why not? Who expected Oracle and Citrix Systems to become such big investors in open source. Citrix' purchase of XenSource sure has worked out--for Microsoft, in my opinion. And that example might seed a desire for more open source code in Microsoft's camp.

Could Microsoft take its cash reserves and buy an open source company? Why not? Who expected Oracle and Citrix Systems to become such big investors in open source. Citrix' purchase of XenSource sure has worked out--for Microsoft, in my opinion. And that example might seed a desire for more open source code in Microsoft's camp.Just because Microsoft bought an open source company doesn't mean it would have to add its code to Windows or some other product, then give it away. Oracle bought InnoDB and Sleepycat's BerkeleyDB as ways to expand its customer base and product line, and it did so without putting Oracle 11g under the GPL. Microsoft could do the same thing.

I don't want to carry this argument too far. Some people will say Microsoft is about as likely to buy an open source company as it is to make Windows open source. Ah, check my thoughts on that topic here.

I don't think any purchase is on the immediate horizon, but I don't rule out such a thing happening in the next two years. Microsoft, more slowly than most, has begun to discern the value of open source code functioning with Windows and the rest of its product line. When Citrix bought XenSource for $500 million, Microsoft spokesmen acknowledged they gained both Linux and virtualization expertise from its close ally through the purchase. That expertise speeded the delivery of its hypervisor, Hyper-V.

Why wouldn't Microsoft at some future date pursue similar advantages more directly?

Without belaboring the point, two examples spring to mind. Microsoft wants a larger presence on the Web and in building Web applications. It's done well with Visual C, C# and the rest of the .Net languages but what it really wants is a Visual Basic of the Internet. But Visual Basic.Net is not cutting it.

What it really wants is something like open source PHP. "We call it the Visual Basic of the Web," said Andi Gutmans, the new CEO at Zend Technoliogies as we talked about his new post yesterday. Zend makes the defacto standard developer's environment for PHP, Zend Studio, as well as the Zend Framework and Zend Platform, added tools for PHP applications. Zend employs many PHP developers and is the strongest storehouse of commercial PHP expertise.

Could Microsoft buy Zend? I don't know that Zend is for sale, although I have to add, "at the moment." In the long run, every software company is for sale when the price gets high enough. I'm thinking of the proudly independent MySQL AB, readying its IPO and determined to fight it out as an independent open source company. Sooner or later, everybody wants to come in from the cold. Instead of an IPO, it went inside Sun Microsystems last April in exchange for $1 billion, a handsome payoff for years of hard work.

Another excellent open source company is SugarCRM, with its customer relationship management applications. They run on Windows by design, as well as other operating systems, and would bring Microsoft a large business applications customer base. Even if it had to keep giving away CRM applications, those customers would be prime candidates for other MIcrosoft software.

Will Microsoft buy an open source company? It seems like too much of a stretch. Despite its former protests against open source, however, it's learning to like the assets that open source brings to its domain.

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