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M$ to boost compatibility with OSS?

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Microsoft is bowing to pressure from users to improve compatibility between its systems software and open-source technology.

The company has run extensive advertising campaigns promoting its products against open-source rivals and chief executive officer Steve Ballmer has denounced Linux as inferior to the Microsoft Windows platform.

But at its head office in Seattle, Microsoft has established a testing lab containing 400 Linux and Unix servers in order to test compatibility with its own systems and management tools.

The company has actively recruited a team of engineers, headed by former IBM open-source head Bill Hilf, to learn from best practices of the open-source community and develop interoperability.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Hilf, director of platform strategy at Microsoft, said, "We do not compete with the open-source community. We have some open-source projects out there."

Hilf said he valued the transparency and honesty of the open-source community and the way it could communicate with users.

He has hired Daniel Robbins, founder of Linux distributor Gentoo, to help Microsoft understand more about how the open-source community works.

Some open-source initiatives are already finding their way into Microsoft practices, said Hilf. "In our shared-source programme, 99% of [the code] is fully modifiable and distributable," he said, mirroring an open source-style licence.

He also said that Wix, the Windows installer, has been licensed under the open source common public licence in the open source web resource, SourceForge.

Hilf is encouraging third-party software providers to develop integration products that will allow Linux and Windows to co-exist.

Earlier this month at Microsoft's European Tech Ed conference in Amsterdam, a number of companies demonstrated Linux/Windows integration. One company, Vintela, showed an agent for Microsoft Systems Management Sever, to allow administration staff to manage Linux servers and desktops. And Centrify has developed authentication software that enables Linux users to be authenticated via the Microsoft Active Directory.

At LinuxWorld in San Francisco next month, Hilf is planning to demonstrate the Indigo technology in Longhorn, the next version of Windows, which he said provides standards-based communications to Microsoft and non-Microsoft systems.


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