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Ask Microsoft's Linux Lab Manager 545

Microsoft Linux Lab Manager Bill Hilf has been mentioned on Slashdot before, not to mention (as you might expect) on Microsoft Watch. His latest high profile coworker, Daniel Robbins, has also gotten a bit of Slashdot attention. Got any questions for Bill he hasn't already answered elsewhere? Post them below (one per post, please). We'll send him 10 - 12 of the highest-moderated ones and post his answers next Monday.
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Ask Microsoft's Linux Lab Manager

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  • I'm somewhat uncomfortable with these interviews since they completely fall in line with PR strategy to shape opinion with the "slashdot crowd". Who initiates these interviews anyway?
    • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:32PM (#13222719) Homepage Journal
      sometimes the responses of people like him help the rest of us weedout the malcontents who are a big disservice to the /. community.

      A lot of what is rated insightful/informative here sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. It can be hard to distinquish between agenda and fact.

      I would love to see even more of these interviews. Finally you can elect to not see these on /. by editing your user preferences.
      • It can be hard to distinquish between agenda and fact.
        ... as opposed to, say, Microsofts' "Get The Facts" campaign, which is soooo much better.


        I'd be more interested in an interview with a pr0n king (at least they make no bones that a lot of the stuff you're looking at is fake, thanks to Dr. Schulnick and DuPont).

    • Hear hear! I second that. Until Microsoft PROVES that they are playing well with others without having to be cajoled or forced by a government organization, then I will believe it.

      Until then, just more marketing bullshit and PR spin. The day they are concerned about interoperability is the day they are planning a product release to replace it.

      For an exaqmple, look at how they have often tried to make Samba useless.
    • Re-reading what I wrote it does seem like *major* troll material. I'm sorry, but I've been involved in too many PR and marketing meetings with technology companies to think otherwise. Microsoft is taking all of this very seriously - having a "dialogue" with the constituents of open source to to appear like a team player. If I were to create a media plan as to where one needed to shape opinion Slashdot would be at the top of the list in big bold type since it is a gathering place of thought leaders who don'
    • I'm somewhat uncomfortable with these interviews since they completely fall in line with PR strategy to shape opinion with the "slashdot crowd".

      And just who might the "slashdot crowd" be? IT industry decision-makers? Stop it, you're killing me.

      In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say that the majority of slashdot readers are Windows users. Exclusively. Dual Linux/Windows booters fall in a distant second.

      More to the point, I'm betting Microsoft suspects this as well (they certainly advertise enough here, d
      • And just who might the "slashdot crowd" be? IT industry decision-makers? Stop it, you're killing me.

        Some of us actually work in the industry, set up and manage servers, deploy desktops, write code, make recommendations, etc. - its' not ALL about downloading as much pr0n as possible ...

        Therefore, an interview with this dude makes a lot of sense for all involved, with the regrettable exception of the zealots and the posers.

        Last I looked, it was Microsoft that was the poser, with bullshit announcements lik

      • Surfing in from a dual boot here where I spend 98% of my time in Fedora. When do I switch to Windows? To play games. It's a glorified X-box with viruses.
  • by Raul654 ( 453029 ) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:29PM (#13222680) Homepage
    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?
  • How do you sleep at night? ;-)
  • Open Standards (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Oriumpor ( 446718 ) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:29PM (#13222686) Homepage Journal
    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
  • by SethJohnson ( 112166 ) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:29PM (#13222689) Homepage Journal

    I'd like to step aside from all the hardware and software questions people are going to throw at you and focus on a more tangible topic: footware. When someone like yourselves accept a job stomping on baby ducks all day, do you invest in new boots, or do you just come to work in whatever old shoes you have in your closet?


    • When someone like yourselves accept a job stomping on baby ducks all day, do you invest in new boots, or do you just come to work in whatever old shoes you have in your closet?

      Considering this is Linux, shouldn't that be baby penguins?
      • Re:what footware? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Valdrax ( 32670 )
        You're missing the point. Baby penguins makes it political. Baby ducks just makes it senselessly cruel.

        So, ha! I counter your unfunny pedantry with my own!
    • I'd like to step aside from all the hardware and software questions people are going to throw at you and focus on a more tangible topic: footware. When someone like yourselves accept a job stomping on baby ducks all day, do you invest in new boots, or do you just come to work in whatever old shoes you have in your closet?

      Actually, those are penguins, not ducks.

  • Penguin Aid? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by deathcloset ( 626704 ) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:30PM (#13222692) Journal
    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?
  • Does it run linux?
  • You know you're going to lose, right?
  • by Tx ( 96709 )
    Bill works for Microsofts Astroturfing lab.
  • Plans (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Azureflare ( 645778 ) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:31PM (#13222706)
    What plans does Microsoft have to make it easier for corporations to let Windows and Linux live together happily? Are there plans to increase integration and open standards between platforms?

    I just went through integrating a linux server on the Windows 2003 Active Directory network here, and though it took some commandline work and messing with pam.d and samba, it wasn't actually that hard to get it joined up to the domain. Now everyone who has a login and password can login locally, as well as via SSH/sftp and jabber.

    I'm glad that Microsoft is letting linux/unix machines integrate at least somewhat, but it would please me to no end to see Microsoft extending their existing Unix services for Windows servers. I know that unix services exist for Windows servers, but we just haven't needed to install them yet (no need for LDAP at this point).

    P.S. I hope they keep you around for a while!

  • you know, just to see if he knows.
  • Marching Orders... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lodragandraoidh ( 639696 ) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:31PM (#13222709) Journal
    What are your marching orders for the Linux lab? (are you looking at interoperability with Windows - or is there something else on the agenda?)
    • That made me think - is there any plans to make PHP a full member of the .NET environment?

      I'm thinking where MS provides a PHP language for the .NET compiler so you can write windows apps in PHP, or take your existing PHP code and compile it to run on IIS and against SQL Server instead of MySQL.

      I guess the same could be asked for Perl, but I think PHP is far more fashionable for web apps today.
  • by nurhussein ( 864532 ) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:32PM (#13222716) Homepage
    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 is 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?
    • My experience with particle accelerators is limited to a single cyclotron, but I can assure you that its controlling system was based on neither Windows nor a customized Linux. In any case, I think one can legitimately claim "lower TCO" as a general case, even if that's not so in the hands of "engineers and scientists who operate things like particle accelerators".
  • Did anyone else read that and think, 'Microsoft Linux' in the same way as you read 'RedHat Linux' or 'Suse Linux'??
  • by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <> on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:33PM (#13222732) Homepage Journal
    Doesn't working at MS isolate you somewhat from the OSS community? What do you do to keep your OSS perspective and skills current?
  • What do you see as Linux's primary contribution to the industry?
  • Maybe I can ask him how to get my wireless card working in Linux on my laptop?
  • Mr. Hilf:

    Does Microsoft intend on making Windows capable of running native Linux ELF binaries now or in the future? I assume the MS has no intention to help out WINE with making Windows binaries compatible but I'm curious as to whether support for the other way around will become a reality.
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:37PM (#13222777)
    While Windows does have many advantages over Linux, I still find that Linux has many good nich areas where Microsoft can't and shouldn't compete in, such as rapid development of appliance like solutions, where the case of finding a low end box (In my case usually Sun Sparc Classics) and downloading a version of Linux and configuring it for headless task(s). This is extremely affordable to my clients in the short and long term. So the question is why isn't Microsoft working harder to make tools that allow Linux to better communicate with Windows? When there is an issue of poor communication between Linux and Windows I usually need to configure Windows to communicate with the Linux box better, which may or may not work 100% and because it is running on Windows it makes Windows look bad. Even if Microsoft released some closed source or Shared source code that would allow better communication between the two platforms would make my job and my clients lives much easer and affordable.
  • The question I'd love to see answered, but which you probably can't: If you had to use a Linux desktop, which distribution would you use and why?

    Failing that: How much attention do you pay to minor distributions (i.e. not Red Hat, Debian, SuSe and Mandrake)? How do they compare, in your hands? What works and doesn't work?

  • See if you can answer the following without the usual PR-let's-find-a-way-to-avoid-or-reformulate -the-question spin? Here's the question:

    If Microsoft believes that it can win by innovating and playing fair, why don't they release network file formats (SMB) and Office file protocols with a BSD-compatible license so that I can access and use that data with any application I choose? And no, the recent "opening" of their office file formats is not enough as its license is completely incompatible with its major
  • Being a jedi in the service of the emperor?
  • How do you handle immature zealots that believe your job involves backstabbing the open source community (like many questions here... hopefully none of which actually get modded high enough for you to have to deal with)?
  • If Windows is truely "the ultimate secure and user friendly OS", as Microsoft has repeatedly claim, why do they need a Linux lab at all? Surely if Windows if as truely magical as many claim, Linux would be dead already.
  • Question (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dakkon1024 ( 691790 )
    Basically by working on interpolating with Linux, you are also working on creating software that better complies with open standards. Bill Gates has often preached a closed source model, most famously his point counter point letter against open source. It is almost certain that you will be making it easier for your competition gain an edge. Which goes against the grain of every policy and business practice Microsoft has employed since its conception. What about today's market leads you to believe this is
  • Is there any chance Microsoft may go a similar route as Apple has with OSX, by making Windows just a Desktop Environment built on top of Linux or BSD?
  • Given that MS is now apparently messing about with Linux, does it have any plans to give something back to the community? For example a GPL-compliant license to use the standards, interfaces and formats required to fully interoperate with MS products. If not, how does MS justify this anticompetitive behaviour?
    • If you had said:

      Given that MS is now apparently messing about with Linux, does it have any plans to give something back to the community? For example a GPL-compliant license to use the standards, interfaces and formats required to fully interoperate with MS products. If not, how does MS justify this unethical behaviour?

      I would like the question better.
  • What cool toys (like a Microsoft Office build for linux) do you get to see that will never be released to the public?
  • by amper ( 33785 ) * on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:46PM (#13222867) Journal
    The subject says it all (mostly).

    One of the primary reasons Linux is somewhat inferior to commerical offierings when considered as a general-purpose dektop 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 it's 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?
  • Samba (Score:4, Funny)

    by miltimj ( 605927 ) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:46PM (#13222871)
    Is one of your projects to assist in analyzing Samba source code to help coworkers better understand the SMB protocol?

    (Shameless, I know...)
  • I know you aren't able to comment on any specific actions that are or might be taken, but as a general philosophy question at Microsoft - are patents seen as a defensive measure only, or are they seen as being useful offensively against competitors and open source developers?
  • Execs trying Linux? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by unsinged int ( 561600 ) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:47PM (#13222882)
    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.
  • Since you work with Linux, you must be aware of the interoperability issues between Linux and Windows, such as smb/cifs. What is Microsoft planning to do about these issues? A standard Linux distribution can't afford to pay for licenses.
    • We at Microsoft are well aware of these outstanding interoperability issues between Linux and Windows. Rest assured that we at Microsoft have made it part of our primary mission to resolve these issues: We can assure you that the next release of our operating system, Windows Vista, will not interoperate with Linux in any way, shape, or form whatsoever.

      (not that you'll really hear that out of Microsoft, but... :)

  • How would you rank Microsoft's interoperability with Linux? How has the Linux Lab helped bridge the Windows/Linux worlds? I still find that Microsoft is unwilling to support open standards.
  • I've noticed that Longhorn/Vista Beta uses the same DOS command line that appeared in previous versions. Are there any plans to implement a Unix/Linux command line to replace/augment the current offering?
  • by dtfinch ( 661405 ) * on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @12:49PM (#13222902) Journal
    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?
  • What is a typical working day for you?
  • I am curious just how well you have the systems in you lab integrated and interoperating. Are you pushing the envelope of what is possible? Are you potentially even discovering new things that are possible integration wise.

    For example I have a domain setup where there is a Microsoft Box acting as the Domain controller for the AD (and as PDC emulator). Several Linux boxes are acting as member servers. Serveral windows boxes act as member servers. DNS/DDNS is setup on both the Windows AD DC, and on a Lin
  • I come from a multi-platform world (Windows, MacOS, Linux, Unix, etc.) and was wondering what Microsoft's long-term interoperability plans are. When Windows NT 4.0 first came out, File & Print Services for NetWare and Services for Macintosh were very useful tools for getting NT servers into the building. These tools still exist, but I just want to know if Microsoft plans to open up even more given that there's even more interconnections between systems now than there was in 1996. Windows Server 2003 may
  • Where do you want to go today?
  • Mr. Hilf,

    Have you ever wanted to pull Bill Gates aside, and discreetly inquire why someone with more money than God has such a shitty haircut?

    Steve Ballmer seems to sweat a lot, especially while dancing; Do you think he has to sleep on a sponge?

  • Hi, Bill. I'm Tickle-Me-Tux, the Linux penguin. I don't have a lot of time. I have been accused of heresy and disloyalty, so Linus himself is hunting me down with a .50 BMG. I think he knows I'm in this Internet coffee shop. I think there's a GPS tracker implanted in my ass. I am in Hell, Bill.

    Are you guys looking for a new mascot? I'm real cheap. A couple pounds of fish a day, water, a place to take a swim and a warm place to take a private dump. That's all I need. A small stipend so I can buy a penguin wh

  • Is the function of the Microsoft Linux Labs to make Windows software and platform compatible with Linux and F/OSS or to make them only compatible if Windows platform user's buy more licensed software from Microsoft? That is to say, is making F/OSS software more transparent to Microsoft managers, a manner to create interoperability, or to capture it in a licensed group of code?

    With all the catching up that Microsoft is trying to do with other software groups lately, is the Linux Lab purposed for any reverse
  • To what extent does your lab research Free and Open Source collaborative development philosophies and processes as opposed to just "taking the pulse" of the state of the Linux art?


    One of the supposed big advantages with OSS development is that it brings together large numbers of developers capable of cooperating in a relatively distributed manner, with little in the way of central coordination - a new feature can be implemented in a local fork, and survive globaly on it's merits.

    The more spe

  • One of the common problem among all operating systems is availability and stability of hardware drivers.

    Do you think Microsoft would be interested in the creation of open driver standards and open API's for hardware?

    This would in effect make a broader range of hardware more like commodity DRAM, commodity flash memory, commodity CDROMs, etc. Right now at the top of my annoyance list is wireless ethernet adapters. They are a pain no matter what operating system I run.

  • I often find old office documents that do not open in newer versions... How does microsoft deal with this problem internally?
  • Do you plan to publicly document the existing Word and Excel binary formats so anyone can read / write to them? (Without having to pay royalties, that is). And more important, why don't you people commit yourselves to adopt the OASIS OpenDocument format [] instead of your proprietary (even if open) ones? A clear, straight answer (not "because my boss said so") would be appreciated.

  • What was your opinion of Windows and Microsoft before you joined the company? After?
    Do you feel any pressure to play down Linux's strengths internally? Externally?
    How would you personally feel if Windows achieved total market domination, extinguishing Linux?
  • When coming back to Windows after a long session in a Unix environment, what do you miss the most?

    Personally, I miss the tab autocompletion in most shells. The tab autocompletion in the Win XP shell seems primitive by comparison:

    • it will encapsulate directory names with quotes, resulting in me arrowing back into the quoted path to autocomplete the path further
    • it seems to choose the first match if there are multiple matches -- whereas Unix shells show the list of options, and some even complete only up
  • I recall hearing from people who have worked at Microsoft who have had ideas on what can be done to improve products. What they mentioned was that there is very much bureaucratic red tape that they must go through in order for their ideas to be considered. Perhaps some people at Microsoft may take your input seriously. But considering the many public statements that they have made regarding open source software, do you believe that you will have much impact on Microsoft's overall strategy for dealing with o
  • Have you been exposed to the idea that software should be free (as in freedom) while using Free Software?. What do you think, should users have freedom or not?
  • by jdehnert ( 84375 ) * <`jdehnert' `at' `'> on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @01:15PM (#13223179) Homepage
    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?
  • by ajrs ( 186276 ) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @01:18PM (#13223201) Homepage
    I've been using a Linux desktop for several years now. I develop software for Unix and Linux based systems. All of the tools I use are either open source, or have documented APIs.

    Why would I ever consider, let alone recomend, a Microsoft product?
  • .NET (Score:2, Interesting)

    What is Microsoft's general position on the open-source projects that are porting .NET to Linux (and other platforms)? Are there any plans to restrict parts of the .NET framework (e.g. WinForms) from being ported?

    Basically, I'm a fan of .NET and would like to hear something reassuring from Microsoft that they won't hinder in any way the development and use of .NET on other platforms. We all know what happened to DR.DOS...
  • These days, it seems that other than Balmer and Gates, anybody who is competent stays for short terms at MS. So where will you go in a year?
  • Sorry, just couldn't help it :D
  • Are you limiting your future potential to develop code for Microsoft by studying linux code so closely?

    Inversely, does one who studies the code for Windows limit their future potential to develop open source code?

  • You bash Microsoft on the Usenet? Or is there a company policy against it?
  • What is it like to work for the dark lord? ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H What are the areas of interoperability that you are targeting in your research of Linux? What Linux technologies are you most interested in interoperating with from a business viability model perspective?

  • One of the biggest gripes about Open Office that Microsoft claimed is poor support for MS Office documents. When will MS Office start supporting Open Office documents?
  • What does Microsoft gain from working with Linux? Or to put it another way, how does your job add value to the company?

    My impression is that the Linux lab is about developing some in-house expertise in open source so that the company will have people who understand a trend that looks like it will probably become more important as time goes on. Is that a reasonable take?

    The other popular conceptions of the lab, I think, are that it's somehow aimed at disrupting linux (which I don't believe, if only because

Mr. Cole's Axiom: The sum of the intelligence on the planet is a constant; the population is growing.