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Interview: Microsoft’s open-source peacemaker

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Bridging the disparate worlds of Microsoft and the open-source community might seem an impossible task but Bill Hilf seems to be having some success in spanning the divide.

It probably helps that Hilf does not have the traditional Microsoft biography. Before joining the company he was a technical strategy leader for IBM’s Linux and open-source business and remains an IEEE Distinguished Visitor on open-source software, a community with which he has been involved for a dozen years.

Today, Hilf is general manager of platform strategy at Microsoft and has been deeply involved with recent developments, most notably the pact with Novell that will see the firms collaborate on Linux-Windows interoperability.
“Quite frankly, customers told us they wanted us to work out the right thing with a Linux vendor,” Hilf said.

But why Novell rather than Red Hat, generally accepted as the most powerful Linux player?

“By its nature, the open-source community means there is no single company to approach so we had to approach the commercial front-ends and Novell was the logical choice. The mixed model of commercial and open-source software made it easy to have this type of conversation. The doors are open for others. Between the Oracle [Unbreakable Linux] announcement and [the Microsoft-Novell pact] Red Hat was a little [concerned about] this being a competitive push.”

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