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Microsoft Software Linux

Microsoft Linux Lab Manager Responds 541

Posted by Roblimo
from the we-love-open-source-but-hide-it-well dept.
Bill Hilf, Microsoft's Linux Lab Manager, got his answers to your questions back to us in time to publish them just before the San Francisco LinuxWorld, where he is speaking. Before you ask: Yes, Microsoft PR had a look at his answers before he sent them. So if you have any follow-up questions for Mr. Hilf, please post them below and I'll try to ask at least a few of them in person at LinuxWorld.
1) Start with the obvious
by Raul654

Dear Mr. Hilf - Surely by now you have to have been accused of helping Microsoft try to exterminate Linux. How do you respond to such accusations?


Bill:

I get that occasionally, you bet. But usually after I explain what I'm actually doing, it helps clear up the conspiracy theories (of which, there are quite a few). The truth is my job is to help Microsoft have a clear, unbiased and knowledgeable understanding of Open Source Software (OSS): the technology, the development models, how the community works, the pros and cons, and the mechanics of the overall process. So, no, Microsoft is not out to exterminate Linux or Open Source, Linux and Open Source Software will continue to be part of the software industry. My job is to help Microsoft have an understanding of the Open Source technology world.

In fact, Microsoft has benefited from OSS, has participated in OSS projects, and feels that OSS will continue to have an important role in the ecosystem. Both commercial and open source offer specific advantages. And several development models can and should coexist in healthy competition. After many years of working in both environments, a mantra I've seen pay off numerous times is "choose technology to fit the need" not based on a belief or religion: in other words, if the software doesn't solve the problem in a cost effective way, belief and religion won't stop the IT guys' cell phones and pagers from ringing at 2 AM, and that goes for *any* technology, regardless of the development model.

2) Open Standards
by Oriumpor

How does Microsoft internally deal with Open Standards and Open Document Formats?

I suppose more generally: In your testing is it solely relegated to Linux in the Server role, or do you address End-User issues as well?


Bill:

We are interested in all sorts of distributions, commercial and non-commercial, of Linux and we test many types of Open Source software overall.

We are very active in helping our product teams test out their open standards implementations. For example, we are currently doing this with Windows Server R2 (a release of Windows Server due out later this year) and its support for NFS and NIS. In a broader answer to this question, Microsoft strongly supports the promotion of open standards. Microsoft's participation in standards bodies such as IETF, W3C and OASIS, and our royalty-free contributions of technology to Web Services standards supports this commitment.

That said, Open Source does not equal Open Standards. It surprises me that this is an issue that(some) people still don't really comprehend. Let's break it down:
* The term "open standards" describes the results of a process for establishing uniform technical specifications (when used in the broader sense);
* While the term "open source," by contrast, refers to a software development and licensing model.
* Open standards may be implemented by software developed under any development and licensing model - non-OSS and OSS alike.

The VCR is a good example of a standards-based product that allowed any video tape* to play on any player - providing a marketplace of competitive VCR implementations, competitive tape media suppliers, and commercial opportunities.

*go ahead, someone say "Hey, but what about Betamax?" - but you get my point.

3) Penguin Aid?
by deathcloset


No doubt one of the activities of microsoft's linux lab is testing the security of linux.

My question is this: if you find a security vulnerability in linux, do you inform the linux community about it?

Bill:

We definitely look at security technologies in OSS in general, including Linux, but we do not actively do security code audits on Linux/OSS. We do occasionally stumble on bugs by accident in various products, and we always email the parties concerned, and it's up to them to do the right thing from that point on.

Let me give you some examples. Michael Howard, one of our security gurus here at Microsoft, has come across some issues in some projects, such as Apache.

As a company, we strongly believe in and encourage responsible disclosure of vulnerabilities. The practice of reporting vulnerabilities directly to a vendor is beneficial to everyone. It helps to ensure that customers receive high-quality software updates for security vulnerabilities, without exposure to malicious attackers while the update is being developed.

In my team's day to day work, we have discovered bugs and submitted fixes upstream. For example, the smbtorture test suite included with Samba had a bug that we identified. We provided a backtrace to the developers, and it was fixed and committed.

We also found some problems with the GAIM Instant Messaging client. GAIM's MSN via HTTP feature didn't work. The bug was noticed by our team because we had a real need for MSN via HTTP on our Linux desktops. So we fixed the issue and submitted the patch upstream.

4) Can Microsoft Ever Give Us Free As In Freedom?
by nurhussein

We've heard a lot about MS having a lower TCO etc., and who knows it may even be true in some cases, but does Microsoft realise that the reason some of us are on Linux is for the "Free as in Freedom" part? This may matter not to the PHBs, but some of the Linux users MS is trying to court such as HPC consist of engineers and scientists who operate things like particle accelerators and are unfazed by the "complexity" of Linux and appreciate the freedom to be able to customise it to their needs?


Can Microsoft ever be as liberal with their operating system as Linux developers are with Linux?

Bill:

Great question, and as someone who has spent time in the academic world as well as in the HPC world, I very much understand your point.

There's always a trade-off between modularity and integration, or said another way, there is always a balance between the ability to customize anything and everything and the ability to deliver a consistent, tested and supported software solution to a broad base of users.

This is not a Windows vs. Linux thing but more of a software design issue. The key is realizing that there's a continuum of possible trade-offs. With increased integration you have certain advantages and disadvantages, and conversely with increased modularity you have other advantages and disadvantages. As an operating system designer, you can pick where you want to be on this modularity/integration spectrum.

Microsoft has found that pursuing a balance, rather than one extreme, is a successful approach that fits the needs of our users and customers in a broad and effective way.

For the global software ecosystem, the best environment for innovation is the coexistence of OSS and commercial software. There is a good review of this successful interaction between software models here.

We try to provide the transparency and flexibility you describe through our Shared Source program. The Microsoft Shared Source Initiative is a range of programs and licenses to make Microsoft source code more broadly available to customers, partners, developers, governments, academics and other people who are interested. Shared Source now serves more than 1.5 million developers through source code access programs. What surprises most people when I tell them about our Shared Source program is that 99% of the >70 programs have full redistribution and modification rights.

5) Stranger in a strage land
by winkydink

Doesn't working at MS isolate you somewhat from the OSS community? What do you do to keep your OSS perspective and skills current?


Bill:

Believe it or not, I use more different types of OSS here at Microsoft than I've ever used before. Our team uses over 40 different flavors of Linux and BSD, plus several commercial Unix variants. Beyond this, we use an ever-growing number of OSS applications. In my spare time, I'm even learning some stuff about Windows J

I also interact with the OSS community and am in contact with many people in the OSS development community from all sorts of different projects. It's important to keep open lines of communication. We may not always agree, but the dialogue is always open and friendly.

6) Why doesn't Microsoft release Microsoft Linux?
by amper

The subject says it all (mostly).

One of the primary reasons Linux is somewhat inferior to commercial offerings when considered as a general-purpose desktop operating system is that there is a lack of a single guiding human interface standard for the various groups to work toward. Companies such as Apple Computer and Microsoft have invested large amounts of money in human interface studies, and although much of this information has been made readily accessible to the public, it would appear that very little of that information has been put to good use by F/OSS developers.

With Apple using the BSD branch of software as its operating system core, do you see a future for a Microsoft-branded Linux distribution, using a Microsoft-developed HCI design?

Though there is a large amount of enmity in the F/OSS community toward Microsoft, it cannot be denied that Microsoft's development methods are demonstrably capable of producing quality software. Could Microsoft serve as a catalyst for consolidation within the community, while remaining true to the F/OSS philosophy? Could such a strategy be profitable for Microsoft?


Bill:

Without question, our strategic bet is on Windows. Windows Vista and Longhorn mark the threshold of our next wave of innovation. This might sound a bit like an 'I drank the Kool-Aid' type answer but I've seen what we've built and are in the process of building, and I've seen what we're architecting. Our developers are creating products and technologies that are redefining what is possible with software. It's an exciting time to be at Microsoft.

But you raise a good point, which is: can there be a positive reciprocal relationship between Microsoft and the OSS development community? I strongly believe the answer is "Yes" and I spend a lot of time trying to help this relationship mature. There is a great amount we can learn from one another, and we have just begun to explore the potential of this relationship.

7) Samba
by miltimj

Is one of your projects to assist in analyzing Samba source code to help coworkers better understand the SMB protocol?


Bill:

This is not something we do, but as I mentioned above, we do use the smbtorture test suite in our labs and we do test for Samba interoperability.

8) Execs trying Linux?
by unsinged int

Have you ever managed to get any of the big shots (for example, Gates) to sit down and try Linux for a few minutes? If so, what did they say? If not, why not? Did they have an allergic reaction and try to run away from you, or have you not asked?

I think it would be interesting to hear the opinions of people at Microsoft who actually have tried Linux (with KDE, OpenOffice, Firefox, etc.), versus the standard "Linux is evil" public relations line.


Bill:

All of our executives see and occasionally use non-Microsoft technologies. This is certainly going to get me flamed, but the Microsoft executives I have worked with are typically very technical, sometimes extraordinarily so. They grasp new technologies very quickly. Sometimes they say "Hey, that problem was solved five years ago - is that it?" -- other times they say "We've got some work to do". I personally have not had an experience here where someone said 'Linux is evil!' Microsoft is a company with deep roots in technology, so most people here approach technology - our own or others - with a technologist's curiosity and interest. Easily one of my favorite things about Microsoft is its culture of curiosity about technology and its potential.

9) Windows Services for Unix
by dtfinch

Microsoft has long offered Services for Unix free for download to provide a unix-like environment on Windows. I've seen rumors and speculation that SFU will be included by default in Windows Vista, with some GPL'd portions replaced or rewritten to maintain compliance. If it's true, what level of functionality and compatibility can we expect?


Bill:

You should attend my LinuxWorld session this week J

I can't confirm what functionality will be in what version of Windows Vista. However, I can confirm that the next-generation of several components of Services for UNIX are being integrated into Windows Server 2003 R2. The NFS client, NFS Server, User/Name Mapping, Telnet Server & Client, Password Sync and NIS Server components of Services for UNIX are all present in the Windows Server 2003 R2 builds. In addition, a revamped POSIX subsystem, the "Subsystem for UNIX-based Applications" or "SUA" is also available as an optional install in R2.

Integrating this functionality in Windows Server 2003 R2 provides native support of cross-platform management tools, Windows/UNIX interoperability and UNIX to Windows application portability. This is a big help for many of the customers I talk to and something I will demonstrate at my LinuxWorld session this week.

10) Beat em or Join em?
by jdehnert

Having been in IT a looong time, I'm pretty familiar with all of the major players.

All of them have their +'s and -'s, but one of my biggest gripes about Microsoft is that instead of trying to leverage OSS, they continually try to crush or marginalize it. Over time I find myself less and less likely to consider a Microsoft solution because I know that over time Microsoft will try and make that solution less interoperable with all of my other solutions.

Microsoft would sell more software to me if I could be sure that they are NOT going to try and lock out all of my other platforms going forward.

Given your current position, does it look as if Microsoft will continue to try and marginalize OSS, or will they do an about face and work to try and ensure ongoing interoperability?


Bill:

If there's one thing that I'd like people to take away from this interview, it's that we can, and should, cooperate and learn from one another.

We love to write great software. One thing Microsoft knows well is the art of 'co-opetition' - competing and also cooperating. Both Microsoft and OSS technologies will continue to be around. We can compete - and competition is healthy - but just as important, we also need to cooperate and make sure that we pursue interoperability as a common goal. We need to be comfortable doing both, simultaneously. We need to have an open, mature relationship.

The key to making this happen is to have open lines of communication. If someone in the OSS community runs into a technical interoperability problem with Microsoft products, I want to know about it. In many cases, we'll be able to do something to resolve the issue. There may be a solution that already exists. Or the problem could be related to an issue that might need to be addressed by one of our product teams. But at the very least, I'll try my best to help and give you a straight answer.

One of my first demos to a high-level executive involved showing some standards-based Linux/Windows interoperability scenarios. I expected to receive an "If it's not built here, then I don't care" kind of response.

To my surprise, his reaction was the opposite: "This is good--we should do more of this type of thing." And I've seen this commitment from many others here at Microsoft, in a variety of roles. At the end of the day, we want software to "just work" too. That's what great software is all about.
If you'd like to contact me directly, I can be reached at billhilf at microsoft dot com.

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Microsoft Linux Lab Manager Responds

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  • Lone Wolf? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sessamoid (165542) * on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:01PM (#13270142)
    Hilf's answers sound quite reasonable, something that most of us don't associate with Microsoft. I understand that his answered were cleared by MSFT public relations department, but that's not quite the same as saying that the company as a whole feels the same way he does. How much of this is just him and/or his department, and how much of this is truly the attitude of the company as a whole? A lot of what some of the other talking heads at Microsoft have been saying over the years is not only different, it's often completely counter to Hilf's views.
    • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by krappie (172561) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:15PM (#13270314)
      Hilf's answers sound quite reasonable, something that most of us don't associate with Microsoft.

      You're right. Someone needs to put quotes of this guy right next some famous MS executive quotes.

      Hilf:
      "I personally have not had an experience here where someone said 'Linux is evil!'"

      Ballmer:
      "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches"

      • Well....the explicit statement is not that Linux is Evil, but that Linux is Cancer. The question being to complete the line of reasoning is "Is Cancer evil?" Most would argue yes of course.

        However I think Ballmer's attack in this case is misdirected. Ballmer needs to redirect his attack if that is how he feels. Rather not attacking Linux, but the GPL (and related licenses) which would fit better with the metaphor than blaming Linux itself.
        • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MightyMartian (840721)
          Ballmer says what investors want to here. Here's the ultimate Microsoft robo-marketer.
          • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:3, Insightful)

            Ballmer says what investors want to here. Here's the ultimate Microsoft robo-marketer.

            I would imagine so, it is his job, after all. It would be kind of silly to look to Ballmer to say anything intelligent about technology, that's not his cup of tea.

            • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:5, Insightful)

              by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday August 08, 2005 @01:17PM (#13270945) Journal
              Then perhaps Ballmer should stop talking. He (and Gates to a lesser extent) have made asses of themselves, and now what? They hope that some on-staff OSS guy is going to make all the crap they've said go away.

              Here's a tip to Ballmer and all those miserable little weasels in Microsoft's overly large marketing department. If you really want a decent, healthy and productive relationship with OSS developers and advocates, then start by telling the arrogant pr*cks that run your company that when they compare Linux to a cancer or OSS to Communism, the message their sending isn't exactly friendly or inviting, and that though they may send in the troops under a flag of peace (as with this interview above), there's no reason in the world to believe them.

              You know, I'd be happy if Microsoft would just make a commitment not to try to sh*t on open standards like they did with Kerberos. But we all know that this is part of their marketing strategy. I'll tell you who the cancer on the computer industry is, it's Microsoft, and there's fifteen years worth of abusive practices to back up what I say.

    • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zr-rifle (677585) <zedr@zeRABBITdr.com minus herbivore> on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:17PM (#13270341) Homepage
      Actually unreasonable is what you would expect from the Microsoft PR department, not viceversa. Techie guys obviously have no interest whatsoever in corporate FUD and guerilla marketing tactics. They're interested in the value of technology and, since Microsoft employs some of the best and brightest in the field, this is a typical no-nonsense response you'd normally get from one of them.

      A very interesting read and no doubt very flammable material to link to on the linux zealot forums.
      • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by liquidpele (663430)
        True, but my question is this.
        Are the bill gates types still in charge over there, or are the engineers and technical types in charge? Those who make the decisions are the people who's opinions and views matter the most.
    • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:20PM (#13270374)
      I understand that his answered were cleared by MSFT public relations department, but that's not quite the same as saying that the company as a whole feels the same way he does.

      Maybe MS censored the part where Hilf says:
      W1nd0ws sux0rz! L1nux 1337!

    • Even if these responses are an exception within the ranks of Microsoft executives, it is somewhat comforting to know that there are people within Microsoft that feel this way.

      The same extends to nearly any organization. While I am not pleased with some companies or governments, I am happy that there are good, reasonable people trying to affect change from within.
      • And what's more is that before Hilf was put into his current position, MS higherups needed to become convinced that such a position was useful enough to justify spending so much money on it. True, Microsoft has deep pockets, but there must have been a lot of discussion involving a lot of people on the topic of "we need to learn from Open Source". I suspect there are a lot of people--even important people capable of creating new boxes in the org chart--trying to "affect change from within".
    • by ch-chuck (9622) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:34PM (#13270500) Homepage
      The Borg Motor Corp. tells thier customers that "Quality is Job One", they tell their employess that "Safety is Job One", but they tell their stockholders the truth, that "Profits are Job One". Msft has a long history of doing anything to accomplish Job One, and there's nobody they won't shake hands with then stab-in-the-back to do it. This lab manager makes 1) good pr for a company will tons (billions) of ill-gotten gain to throw around and 2) helps them understand the competition better in order to win contracts that someone else may get.

    • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:35PM (#13270504) Homepage Journal
      I don't know. Towing the party line about Microsoft supporting open standards?

      If there's one thing Microsoft clearly does NOT do, it's support open standards, especially when it's not in their own best interests. Microsoft plays the game of 'embrace, extend, extinguish' with open standards much of the time.

      If Microsoft is so willing to support open standards and interoperability, then I challenge them to produce a version of Microsoft Office that offers full and complete support for reading and writing the OASIS Open Document format -- without breaking the standard.

      Otherwise, I call shenanigans!
      • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by man_of_mr_e (217855) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:47PM (#13270625)
        I'm curious. What makes you think the OASIS standard is even worth supporting? Other than as an interoperability device to OOo that is.

        I'm not suggesting that open standards shouldn't be the goal, but just because a standard exist doesn't make it a good one.

        I've looked at the OASIS standard, and it seems pretty much just modeled after OOo, which means that any product that doesn't map to it 1:1 is going to break the standard.

        The OASIS standard just adopted OOo's format, there was no working group that developed it from scratch to be a an open and extensible standard. That's what needs to be done, IMO.

        • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Abcd1234 (188840)
          So, OOC, do you have specific technical objections to the OASIS standard? Because your entire post *appears* to be predicated on the idea that, since it's based on the OOo document format, it must be bad. So, are there things about the format that make it closed or non-extensible?

          Incidentally, I object to the idea that a standard created by a working group would, inherently, be better... I think, given some of the stuff that's come out of the W3C and IETF, it's pretty clear that isn't something one can ju
          • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:3, Insightful)

            by man_of_mr_e (217855)
            I didn't say that a working group HAD to be better, but single entity "standards" typically are not designed with anything other than the entity in mind.

            Yes, i have far too many examples than i can list here, but here are a few:

            No way to extend already defined elements. If, for example I want to extend an element to include a new type of border element or style, you can't... at least not without breaking the standard.

            Foreign elements are not required to be preserved. This means that if I DO extend the sta
        • Good call. (Score:3, Interesting)

          by PotatoHead (12771) *
          However, adopting that standard and support it would go a long way toward the greater adoption of something we can all use to exchange documents.

          As it stands right now, OOO bends over backward to provide interoperability with the latest MSO formats and gets nothing in return. Given the touchy nature of the MSO formats, returning the favor in like kind might bring an advantage to both sides. Having recently used OOO to open a mangled MSWord document, I think there is some room to give in this area.
        • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by j-pimp (177072)
          The OASIS standard just adopted OOo's format, there was no working group that developed it from scratch to be a an open and extensible standard. That's what needs to be done, IMO.

          The problem is the OASIS seem to be support bottom up and you seem to be in favor of top down standards. Allowing some product to become the referenmce implementation for a standard becasue the product proved itself is not a bad idea.

          Microsoft Word has become a defacto standard for document interchange. This has happened be
        • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Knuckles (8964) <knuckles@dan t i a n . org> on Monday August 08, 2005 @02:49PM (#13271914)
          Read Brian Jones' (manager of MS Word development group) blog [msdn.com] and the comments (esp. June/July archive IIRC). The OASIS standard looks like OOo because MS declined to take part in its development. Then they turned around and claimed that since OASIS doesn't do what they need, they to have to develop a competing XML file format in Office 12.

          What makes you think the OASIS standard is even worth supporting?

          EU encouragement? [eu.int]
        • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by d34thm0nk3y (653414)
          The OASIS standard just adopted OOo's format, there was no working group that developed it from scratch to be a an open and extensible standard. That's what needs to be done, IMO.

          From the OASIS FAQ:

          OpenDocument has been developed as an application-independent format by a vendor-neutral OASIS Technical Committee (TC) with the participation of multiple office application vendors. The basis for the OASIS OpenDocument TC's work indeed was the OpenOffice.org XML file format, but even the OpenOffice.org XML f
      • Toeing the line. As in having your toe right on the line.

        Sorry, that's just one of my pet peeves.
    • He must have laughed aloud in the last question, when he discussed interoperability.

      Microsoft has tried to close out OSS developers, like the Samba people, even when they were required by EU to open their protocols...

      It is standard practice for monopolists to vary implementations and standards -- it is to their advantage. And it is standard practice to lie about it. (Something like foreign policy even in democracies; "realpolitik" rules -- and all countries lie about it.)

    • I didn't see anything at all in this interview. A lot of words, but it doesn't sound so much approved by Microsoft's PR guys as much as it was written by them. Maybe someday Microsoft will learn how to communicate, but this day wasn't one of them. What an unmitigated waste of electrons.
    • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Neopoleon (874543) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:46PM (#13270614) Homepage
      "Hilf's answers sound quite reasonable, something that most of us don't associate with Microsoft."

      I don't mean to sound frustrated, but one reason most of You (the slashdot crowd, for example, not you in particular) don't associate "reasonable" answers with MS employees is that you often *disregard* our reasonable answers, or write them off, and just remember the times we say boneheaded things (keeping in mind that *all* people at *some* time will say something boneheaded).

      I've been working as one of these MS "evangelist" people for over a year now, and I regularly discuss F/OSS issues with customers.

      I know many people internally who work with F/OSS stuff in their spare time.

      It's much less unusual than you might think to meet a softie who has a decent knowledge of F/OSS. Before going to work for MS, for example, I wrote a BASH textbook for a local vocational school to be used with government employees (the deal fell through, but I still did the book).

      What Hilf said about Microsoft being populated largely with technologists is absolutely true.

      It's also true, though, that many of us came to Microsoft because we actually [gasp] *prefer* a lot of Microsoft products to the competition. The result? We're biased. But it's an honest bias - one resulting from a technical rather than religious or philosophical point of view.

      I came to MS because .NET blew me away. I was doing VB6 (which I didn't particularly enjoy) and Java, but messing with C#, I found a new love. And, like many others, I took a pay cut to come to MS. My very comfortable six-figure consultant's income has been reduced to... well, something less, shall we say, but I'm happier than ever because the work kicks ass, and I'm closer to the source than ever.

      But, in my spare time, I still play with everything.

      For example, this comment was brought to you by OS X (went out yesterday and bought my fourth OS X machine). Like many geeks, life for me just doesn't feel balanced without a little bit of *nix in the mix somewhere...

      So, give us a chance, yo. *Most* of us don't think F/OSS is "evil." We just like our stuff better than the other stuff. Nothing wrong with that - I'm sure many of you feel the same way about F/OSS vs. Microsoft.

      C'est la vie et tout ca, etc.
      • Re:Lone Wolf? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rutulian (171771) on Monday August 08, 2005 @01:46PM (#13271216)
        Well, I agree. I'm sure most of the people that work at Microsoft are reasonable and technologically oriented people. I think the animosity between the open source community and Microsoft doesn't come from a dislike for the people. It comes from a dislike for company practices and policies, some of which are just due to it being a commercial company, but others are unnecessarily predatory and anticompetitive.

        Like you said, .NET is technically very good. Why doesn't the open source community like it? Because they can't safely implement a set of libraries for interoperability without worrying about patent issues. Sun's implementation of Java isn't open either, but the Java standard is, and the open source community can attempt (so far, not so well) to implement a gpl'd version. Mono is attempting to do the same thing with .NET, but a lot of people are concerned about intellectual property issues, and I doubt any major distribution will ever ship it out of the box.
      • I've been working as one of these MS "evangelist" people for over a year now, and I regularly discuss F/OSS issues with customers.

        Are you doing that right now by reading and posting to /. during business/working hours? I'm not trying to be sarcastic, I really want to know. It used to be a conspiracy theory that Microsoft employees would astroturf slashdot in an attempt to skew community discussion to be more favorable towards them, I'm just wondering if there's any kernel of truth to that.

        If you were

  • by iBod (534920) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:08PM (#13270222)
    FTA: "We need to have an open, mature relationship"

    Tried that one on my wife once, and I didn't have one decent hot meal in over 6 months.
  • Hmmm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    "If you'd like to contact me directly, I can be reached at billhilf at microsoft dot com."

    Does this mean I can contact billgates at microsoft dot com, because I have some questions I'd like to ask him too.
  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:09PM (#13270237)
    Windows Vista and Longhorn mark the threshold of our next wave of innovation.

    Isn't Longhorn == Vista?
  • Not fair... (Score:5, Funny)

    by LegendOfLink (574790) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:10PM (#13270241) Homepage
    Yes, Microsoft PR had a look at his answers before he sent them.

    *A paperclip icon comes up onto your desktop*

    "Hi, I see you're answering questions from Slashdot, and I noticed you need some help."

    | Yes, delete all negative MS comments | or | Yes, delete all negative MS comments |
    • ...but of course the "kernal of truth" joking is often the funniest.

      If I were him I would have immediately ignored anything along the lines of, "Do you think Microsoft is outright evil, or just misguided?", or "Why is Microsoft trying to [insert dastardly deed here]?"
  • by Prien715 (251944) <agnosticpope@noSpAm.gmail.com> on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:11PM (#13270253) Journal
    I think my biggest issue with MS interoperability currently is NTFS write support in Linux or EXT3/ReiserFS/XFS support in Windows. Being a dual boot person, I really need a partition that's fast, efficient, reliable enough for everyday use, and interoperable.

    Does MS have any such plan in the work to either a) support alternative file systems (such as EXT2/3) natively or at least publish something explaining how their older FS (NTFS) works such that OSS people can write a better interoperability module?
  • One thing Microsoft knows well is the art of 'co-opetition' - competing and also cooperating. ...or maybe 'co-opting' the competition?

    Where do they get these guys? No one I know talks like Microsofties - which gives me the feeling I'm listening to a snake oil/car salesman. They slip up in little ways that gives you a picture of the inner truth - that is only possible if they are keeping a tight reign on their inner voice for public consumption.
    • by interiot (50685) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:20PM (#13270366) Homepage
      that is only possible if they are keeping a tight reign on their inner voice for public consumption.
      Name me any Fortune-500 companies that DON'T prohibit their employees from talking directly to the press, or otherwise require the PR/legal departments to review all public statements? Having the CEO say "Linux is a cancer" to mainstream press and having a peon say "we benefit from and contribute to OSS!" to Slashdotters definitely gives you a slimy feeling about microsoft, but don't include the tight control over public statements as one of your reasons to mark MS off as slimy.
    • "Co-opetition" is a pretty common business buzzword, often uttered in the same sentence as "synergy" and "solution". Heck, I think someone even wrote a book by that title.

      -R
  • Flame awa, but... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:11PM (#13270260)
    like the man said, I, too, put my money on MS in the long run. I've been in the IT industry too long and seen too much to believe that MS will back down anytime soon. Linux has actually helped MS improve itself. Unfortunatley, too many people put freedom above all else. People talk about open source in here like it's the 2nd coming, but if the truth be known, almost nobody save developers and the zealots care about seeing the source.
    As a guy whos purposely moving away from being a techie into management, I can tell you that all I care about is getting the job done. I could care less whether that solution is MS or linux. Whatever works. Open standards, though are imperative for us all to play nicely.
    • by kg4gyt (799019)
      Its not all about the code. I rarely look at open source sourcecode, however the OSS community is much more inviting and helpful than commercial groups. The reason: Commercial groups just want your money, while OSS groups are already giving the software away.

      OSS also lacks the restrictions that Microsoft places on the consumer such as product activation, automatic-updates that don't always work, etc. etc.

      OSS isn't all about the soucecode, its about the community behind it.
  • Change the chairs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Iriel (810009) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:12PM (#13270277) Homepage
    Personally, if I were in control of Microsoft, I'd want Hilf to be talking to the public instead of Ballmer. Ballmer gives talks about how much more secure Windows Server 2003 is compared to Red Hat 6 as a definative blow to all things Linux. On the other hand, I actually like this guy's position. While it's possible that it could just be PR to make us watch the left hand while the right is up to no, good, it is also quite possible that Hilf is genuine in his approach to technology. In either case, he comes off as a personality that is far more trustworthy than Steve. And trust seems to be a key ingredient in building customer/provider relations.

    Just my two cents
    • In either case, he comes off as a personality that is far more trustworthy than Steve. And trust seems to be a key ingredient in building customer/provider relations.

      Oh come on, like anyone cares what Steve Ballmer has to say. Either a) the potential customer doesn't have a clue that Steve is flamebait or b) doesn't care. If the customer is already a Microsoft customer, they are already in a position not to care.

      Just because a Linux user at Microsoft appeals to the Slashdot crowd doesn't mean he's the bes
    • Thats NEVER going to happen as long as Ballmer is still employeed.

      Reason: Pure 100% politics.

      Add that to Wiki
    • by Frostalicious (657235) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:39PM (#13270552) Journal
      Personally, if I were in control of Microsoft, I'd want Hilf to be talking to the public instead of Ballmer.

      This looks to be a good cop/bad cop routine.

      Ballmer: We will crush linux, see OSS driven before us, and hear the lamentation of the geeks!

      Hilf: Don't worry about him, can't we all just get along?
  • We definitely look at security technologies in OSS in general, including Linux...

    Free debugging for their stole^H^H^H^H^Hborrow^H^H^H^H^H^Hlicen^H^H^H^Htop notch code.
  • by alvinrod (889928) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:17PM (#13270333)
    I don't doubt that there are a lot of people at Microsoft who really do make wonderful and innovative products and don't care one wiff if someone wants to use an OSS solution.

    However, it's plainly clear that one hand isn't aware of what the other is doing. Here we have someone suggesting that Microsoft is about cooperating and being friendly towards the OSS community, which is probably true. Yet the upper management in Microsoft seems more content on crushing or marginalizing OSS rather than fostering the cooperation that a lot of the people in the company might feel.

    I can understand this as the people lower on the totem pole probably get a flat salary and some stock options on occasion if they want them. The top brass makes money whenever the company sells an MS product and potentially loses out when someone tries OSS software. The guys making the same $40 (or whatever) an hour will make that same $40 whether or not John Doe runs Linux, Windows, or OS X. Granted that they would be laid off if no one bought Windows and the company went under, but that seems a little unreasonable at this point in time.

    It's pretty clear though that there are some mixed and widely different viewpoints in the company. A lot of hardcore Linux people could easily write this off as more junk from the evil MS, but I actually feel that these are truthful answers that are believable. However, since Mr. Hilf isn't calling all the shots, it really doesn't matter how he feels. Microsoft upper management will generally tend to pursue tactics to get rid of Linux.

  • What a load of crap (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nahpets77 (866127)

    The theme of all his answers is basically 'there's room for all of us to coexist together in a Utopian paradise' blah blah... This comment in particular annoyed me (FTA):

    One of the primary reasons Linux is somewhat inferior to commercial offerings when considered as a general-purpose desktop operating system is that there is a lack of a single guiding human interface standard for the various groups to work toward. Companies such as Apple Computer and Microsoft have invested large amounts of money in human

    • by bloggins02 (468782) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:25PM (#13270415)
      If you look closely you'll realize that was written by the original question submitter, not Hilf.
    • by Iriel (810009)
      All blame issues aside concerning who asked, there's another piece of the UI puzzle to be considered:

      You seem to enjoy using KDE (so do I, actually) and while it has come very far in a relatively short period of time (if my information is correct), it's more than just the look that makes a UI. For example, Joe Sixpack likes no-strings-attached binaries, not tar.bz2 files or .rpms that could have some insane dependancy problems. I think the majority of debates about User Interface that compare Linux/Mac/Wind
  • Asking Microsoft how it feels about Linux? Isn't that like asking Castro how he feels about Florida? or something...
  • by IA-Outdoors (715597) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:20PM (#13270373)
    but your enemies closer. You have to remember that MS is in this for the bottom line and Linux and OSS is eating into their bottom line. While the answers given seem to show some sort of appreciation for Linux and OSS, I would say it is really less appreciation than respect for an enemy. To MS's credit, they are finally giving in that there is something to be learned from the various practices in the OSS world.
    • by krumms (613921) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:47PM (#13270627) Journal
      You have to remember that MS is in this for the bottom line and Linux and OSS is eating into their bottom line.

      That's right, this is HR at its best: hire the guy that the target audience wants to hear from and let him speak. If this were Steve or Gates speaking you wouldn't give them two seconds of credit.

      1. MS HR hires guy who loves F/OSS
      2. Guy who loves F/OSS tells Slashdot he has a deep appreciation for Linux & F/OSS in a Q&A session.
      3. PR filters said Q&A session to put a subtle "We're Still Better, Just Barely" spin on it all.
      4. MS essentially tells Slashdot exactly what it wants to hear, while F/OSS loving Microsoftie thinks he's doing the F/OSS world a favour.

      The reason this bullshit is so believable is because the guy saying it believes it himself. MS knows he believes it, and is using it to their advantage to appease the F/OSS community.

      Corporations exist solely to make money, and will use people with noble intentions and/or moral values to continue making money if it suits their purposes. Never, ever forget that.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:21PM (#13270378)

    Have you ever managed to get any of the big shots (for example, Gates) to sit down and try Linux for a few minutes? If so, what did they say? If not, why not? Did they have an allergic reaction and try to run away from you, or have you not asked?

    Gates claims to have tried Firefox [bbc.co.uk]:

    "I played around with it a bit, but it's just another browser, and IE [Microsoft's Internet Explorer] is better."
    If is this the case, then why does the IE7 beta include so many features from Firefox/Opera like tabbed browsing and support for RSS feeds?

    Statements like this coming out of Microsoft make it difficult to believe that you're being honest with us. Every single person that I've shown Firefox to, no matter what their background, has switched over and not gone back. What's unique about Gates?

    Have him spend a few hours mangling his stylesheets so IE can understand them, and then let's see what he thinks about IE.

    • by Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:57PM (#13270717) Homepage
      If is this the case, then why does the IE7 beta include so many features from Firefox/Opera like tabbed browsing and support for RSS feeds?

      Because, according to Gates, IE7 has all the good parts of Firefox and more.

      There seems to be a lot of this "Firefox had it first, IE is just copying Firefox" type coments going around. But why not copy good features from other applications? If the features that Firefox "had first" are so great (and they are), I would expect other browser developers to integrate simular feature. Just because Firefox had them first doesn't mean Firefox has exclusive rights to them.

  • That was the interesting part. What they NEED to do is update the libraries and development options in SFU so you can just port all your "unix" programs to Lonhorn's "unix" layer. Talk about embrace and extend...
  • by segfault7375 (135849) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:30PM (#13270455)
    Microsoft has long offered Services for Unix free for download to provide a unix-like environment on Windows. I've seen rumors and speculation that SFU will be included by default in Windows Vista...

    I think what he meant was that Windows Vista is going to include a lot of STFU by default :)
  • Having seen Mr.Hilf in person, and had a chance to chat one on one, I think that MS is doing great by the OSS comunity by having Bill on staff. His style is very even handed, and he's objective to a fault. I try to keep a very cenetered aproach to OS,Software dev, and philosophies associated with them. I find Bill's perpesctive refreshing and helpful.
  • Yeah, right (Score:2, Troll)

    by mshiltonj (220311)
    So, no, Microsoft is not out to exterminate Linux or Open Source...

    I should have stopped reading right there, knowing the whole piece is spin.
    • Re:Yeah, right (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AltGrendel (175092)
      I should have stopped reading right there, knowing the whole piece is spin.
      Sometime it's a good idea to read the whole thing to get an idea of what angle they're trying to spin. Then you can come up with an inteligent counter-argument.
  • You seem to be a really nice guy, but

    Microsoft's participation in standards bodies such as IETF, W3C and OASIS, and our royalty-free contributions of technology to Web Services standards supports this commitment.

    You don't really wanna tell the /. croud that your answers didn't run through Microsofts PR department; now would you?

  • One thing Microsoft knows well is the art of 'co-opetition' - competing and also cooperating.

    Maybe it's just me, but I'm having a hard time reconciling this statement with internal emails that say things like "cut off their air supply."

  • PR influence (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nuffle (540687) on Monday August 08, 2005 @12:40PM (#13270560)
    In case you're wondering what influence the PR people had, you can look for things like: Did he mention any specific strength or compliment of a specific Free/OS project? E.g. "GAIM is a great IM client..." Did he mention any specific ways that MS can learn from OS development approach? E.g. "OS development has taught us the importance of..."
  • Forgive me, but I'm still trying to figure out if this hype is "news for nerds" or "stuff that matters".

    Because to me, it simply seems like feel-good PR rubbish that corporations spew every day...
  • "Open standards may be implemented by software developed under any development and licensing model - non-OSS and OSS alike."

    At best, that's disingenuous; don't non-OSS licensing models preclude interoperable OSS software?
  • Followups.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by naelurec (552384) on Monday August 08, 2005 @01:01PM (#13270779) Homepage
    And several development models can and should coexist in healthy competition. .. but Microsoft does not like competition and kills it at any opportunity by buying out companies, having "creative" budling agreements with OEMs and so forth. Many companies have decided against investing into new ideas because of these anti-competitive practices. How does that create a "healthy competition"?

    Microsoft's participation in standards bodies such as IETF, W3C and OASIS

    I was unaware of their participation in OASIS .. does this mean we will see the Office suite utilize OASIS in the future or atleast provide the ability to easily import/export OASIS documents?

    How about W3C? Seems like MS is very much behind in their "participation" to web standards.

    The VCR is a good example of a standards-based product that allowed any video tape* to play on any player - providing a marketplace of competitive VCR implementations, competitive tape media suppliers, and commercial opportunities.

    Kinda like how FOSS can *generally* be easily run on any operating system providing a marketplace of competitive OS implementations, hardware architectures and commercial opportunities. Like you said "best tool for the job.."

    At the end of the day, we want software to "just work" too. That's what great software is all about.

      What better way to make it "just work" than have Microsoft create it all! hehe..

    Overall I don't see much value in this interview at all.. there is no doubt that the Linux guy at Microsoft would get this level of treatment. Microsoft needs guys inside the company that fully understands the competition and can provide information so the execs/marketing can maintain success in the marketplace.

    The bottom line is this guys reality is not anywhere close to what is happening. Microsoft fostering friendly competition? Microsoft adhering to and promoting open standards (w3c, oasis as examples??)? 'co-opetition'?? Blech.

    Needless to say, I wouldn't mind having this guys job .. mess around with FOSS all day, get paid well to do so and every once in a while fire off some BS to management about the state of FOSS (copy and paste from slashdot?? :)
  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Monday August 08, 2005 @01:02PM (#13270783)
    The truth is my job is to help Microsoft have a clear, unbiased and knowledgeable understanding of Open Source Software (OSS): the technology, the development models, how the community works, the pros and cons, and the mechanics of the overall process. So, no, Microsoft is not out to exterminate Linux or Open Source, Linux and Open Source Software will continue to be part of the software industry.

    His job isn't to exterminate Linux, just get accurate info about it to M$.

    In other news, the AEGIS radar system on a DD(G) guided missle cruiser doesn't kill enemies. It just gives fire control information to the ship, which then uses surface-to-air missles to kill the enemies.

  • Interop problem.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jeremy Allison - Sam (8157) on Monday August 08, 2005 @02:22PM (#13271593) Homepage
    "If someone in the OSS community runs into a technical interoperability problem with Microsoft products, I want to know about it."

    Thanks Bill. So how about the IDL files for all the undocumented Microsoft RPC services your clients depend on for login as well as the "standards" based parts of login ?

    We're still waiting.... no, we won't go away :-).

    Knowing about it doesn't help if you never *do* anything about it.

    Cheers,

    Jeremy Allison,
    Samba Team.

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