Director of Microsoft platform technology strategy, Bill Hilf, was going to talk to a crowd of open source enthusiasts at the LinuxWorld conference in Sydney last month about managing Linux in a mixed environment. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to make it.
IDG's Dahna McConnachie managed to grab a few minutes with Hilf - the man who runs Microsoft's Linux and open source technology group - to hear about the software giant's views on open source and what its Linux lab gets up to.
There was plenty of speculation about why you pulled out of the conference. What was the real reason?
Bill Hilf (BH): I had a scheduling conflict for an internal meeting that could not be moved. Believe me, I would much rather have been at LinuxWorld.
How many staff are in Microsoft's Linux and open source technology group?
BH: It's a small, experienced and focused team - it is usually 8-10 people at any given time.
What exactly does your group do?
BH: Essentially, we are a centre of competency for Open Source Software (OSS) inside Microsoft. By running Linux and a variety of other OSS in a highly Microsoft-centric IT environment, we are learning how those technologies can better interoperate with Microsoft's proprietary technologies. The lab consists of a few hundred servers plus a range of PCs, collectively running over 40 different Linux distributions, together with many different versions of Unix. These various systems need to interoperate with the Windows-based networking, human-resources, email and other systems that run Microsoft. In the research lab there is analysis, testing, benchmarking and a variety of different interoperability scenarios that we work through, as well as a large amount of resources that we provide to the rest of Microsoft so that they can understand and learn more about OSS.
While testing interoperability between open source software and Microsoft products is one of the lab's main objectives, it isn't the only one. Another important objective is a more competitive one - to help Microsoft build better products by deeply understanding Linux and open source. We analyse, test and benchmark aspects of open source software we want to compare to Microsoft products, such as various server workloads, desktop scenarios, virtualisation technologies, security technologies, management tools or just applications that are specific to certain vertical industries.
One of the biggest areas that my team and I look at that is often unrepresented is that it's not just the technical analysis, but also the sociological elements of OSS and the community development model. We spend a tremendous amount of time understanding the community process of this model and learning how Microsoft can be more aware and its products more accessible to the community.
How important is Linux and open source strategy to Microsoft?
BH: By exploring the dynamics of the open source software phenomenon in an impartial and unbiased manner that relies on hard technical data, the Linux/Open Source Software lab at Microsoft has been able to drive improvements and changes to both internal Microsoft groups and customers who have asked us to look into common Linux/OSS questions and issues. And while we are very proud of the work we have accomplished so far, by continuing to practice the fine balance between cooperation and competition with open source software, we are equally confident that our future research will benefit Microsoft, its customers and partners, and the open source community.