March 27, 2009

4 Min Read
Microsoft: Serving Up More Open Source

By Scott Dahlgren

You know how little things happen all around you and you’re not really sure what it all means or how/if they are connected?  And then one day the pieces all fall together and you have that OMG moment? That happened to me when reading about the MIX09 conference. I suddenly realize that Microsoft is finding ways to make closed source and open source live in harmony. Here’s how.

Clearly, The VAR Guy was way in front of this almost a year ago when described how Microsoft was certifying open source apps for Windows Server 2008.” But I think this will be an insightful read even for him.

PHP On Windows

About the time that The VAR Guy wrote that article,  Zend Technologies (where I formerly worked) and Microsoft announced better support of PHP on Windows — making Windows a viable alternative platform for running PHP applications. It was unclear at the time how serious Microsoft was, given that PHP competed with other Microsoft technologies but users were demanding that they do something.

In the third quarter of 2008, Microsoft announced their BizSpark program intended to provide early stage ISVs with Microsoft software and support all at no charge. “That’s nice” I thought. Obviously, Microsoft was feeling the heat from open source and trying to package themselves to look like an open source company by being easier and cheaper to work with for small startups. I thought this program would appeal mostly to Microsoft ISVs, that the motivation was to reduce the defection of those ISVs from Microsoft to open source, and that the two camps would continue to operate in separate worlds.

On the other side of the world, SilverStripe, a small open source CMS software & services company in Wellington, New Zealand, was trying to figure out how to grow and how best to support the 40% of their customers who were running SilverStripe on Windows but not having the best experience.

Interest in SilverStripe was growing rapidly. Last fall they delivered the website for the Democratic National Convention and were the 2008 winner of Packt Publishing’s “Most Promising Open Source CMS” award. This caught Microsoft’s attention; the software giant was still looking for ways to work better with open source applications and with PHP developers.

Conveniently, BizSpark had just been announced and this became the vehicle that enabled SilverStripe and Microsoft to work together to make SilverStripe running on Windows a better experience for users. This was all captured in great detail by Nigel Parker on his recent blog post and also in a very good Microsoft case study.

While running PHP apps on Windows was now a better experience, doing it successfully required a level of competency that was inhibiting mass market adoption — you had to know what you were doing.

Easier, Integrated

Last week at MIX09, Microsoft announced availability of Microsoft Web Platform Installer 2.0 Beta (WebPI), making it much easier now to download, install, and maintain your Microsoft Web Platform.  Also bundled with WebPI were 10 applications (mostly PHP open source) that the Installer downloads and installs automatically on your Windows environment . One of those 10 applications was SilverStripe and the installation process, now with the WebPI, is clearly very simple.

This week, eWeek’s article  “Microsoft Preps Open-Source Apps Marketplace” talks about the marketplace that Microsoft is building to promote and distribute open source applications and that it could become “an app store for applications, services and support for open-source technology that runs on the Windows platform” and also that “Microsoft is looking at Windows Azure as a potential distribution platform for these applications.”

More Than Talk

Wow – this is huge – and in fact all of these pieces do fit together into a very powerful story, but it took until now for me to really get it. Microsoft is in fact serious about working with the open source community. They are not just talking about it and rolling out nice marketing programs, they are actually delivering.

While I’m sure they still want to control the world, they seem to realize that they can’t do it alone. For companies like SilverStripe, being aligned with a company like Microsoft creates huge momentum and opens up new markets and new customers that were not available before.  For the end user, there is freedom to chose the best solution that fits your need. On the surface is seems like a win-win-win. I just hope it stays that way.

The VAR Guy contributing blogger Scott DahlgrenContributing blogger Scott Dahlgren is an independent consultant helping small and mid-size technology companies extract greater value from their partner and channel relationships. And he also runs marathons through the woods of Connecticut. Here are all of Scott’s blog entries. The VAR Guy is updated multiple times daily. Don’t miss a single post. Subscribe to his newsletter, RSS feed, Twitter feed and Resource Center.

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