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Microsoft's Windows Store: FOSS Welcome Here

Microsoft's Windows Store: FOSS Welcome Here

"I don't think it is a matter of Microsoft seeing the light or not," said Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger. "My sense is that Microsoft understands the market and where it is going as well as the next company, but they operate under important constraints that are not to be underestimated. Microsoft is feared more than loved, and yet their business is surprisingly dependent on their partner program, especially in the SMB space."

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
12/12/11 5:00 AM PT

Here in the world of FOSS, watching Microsoft can be like riding on the proverbial roller-coaster, with no shortage of ups and downs.

Sometimes -- like pretty much all the time when it comes to Android, for example -- things look pretty bad. Other times, however, there can appear faint glimmers of hope.

Such was the case just last week, in fact, when Redmond began to reveal details about its upcoming Windows Store, including its app developer agreement for all those who hope to offer their wares there.

An Exception for FOSS

Read that agreement, and along with all the usual legalese and standard dire language, you'll find a sparkling ray of light:

"Your license terms must also not conflict with the Standard Application License Terms, in any way, except if you include FOSS, your license terms may conflict with the limitations set forth in Section 3 of those Terms, but only to the extent required by the FOSS that you use," the agreement reads.

"'FOSS' means any software licensed under an Open Source Initiative Approved License," it adds.

Blink for an instant and you could easily miss it, but there's no denying that this is a concession, plain and clear.

'Too Late'

Is Microsoft finally seeing the open source "light," if you will? That's a topic on which Linux bloggers have had plenty to say.

"If you like open source, just use Android," wrote kronoscornelius on PCWorld, for example. "MS had its chance 10 years ago and they decided to ignore the community.

"Now the number 1 mobile OS is open source, and the number 1 cloud OS is open source, and they suddenly want to gain some geek cred... too late," kronoscornelius added.

'What Their Customers Require'

Similar thoughts could be heard down at the Linux blogosphere's Broken Windows Lounge.

"I don't think it is a matter of Microsoft seeing the light or not," Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told Linux Girl. "My sense is that Microsoft understands the market and where it is going as well as the next company, but they operate under important constraints that are not to be underestimated."

Perhaps most notable is that "Microsoft is feared more than loved, and yet their business is surprisingly dependent on their partner program, especially in the SMB space," Travers pointed out. "If partners start running to Linux, Windows ends up facing far more serious competition, and if Microsoft tries to move to a more open source business model, that is exactly what will happen."

'They Will Need to Be Inclusive'

Microsoft is also no stranger to open source, Travers added: "I remember that the zlib double free bug a number of years ago required a lot of Microsoft software to be patched."

So, all in all, "Microsoft is just doing what their costumers require, but no more," he concluded. "I suspect this is the same as the Samba contributions."

Indeed, "on my Android phone, FOSS apps provide utilities to make my life easier and, in some cases, provide needed functions for me to do my job while away from the office or home," consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack offered.

"Since Microsoft is coming from fourth place, they will need to be as inclusive as possible with their apps," he opined.

'Another Way to Tax FLOSS'

Microsoft "never does anything to weaken its monopoly," blogger Robert Pogson agreed.

Agreeing to "distribute FLOSS for a cut of the proceeds is just another way to tax FLOSS," he asserted.

"If ever a particular FLOSS product challenges M$'s monopoly, it will be attacked with patent suits, exclusive dealing and intimidation," Pogson predicted. "M$ has not seen the light, but lives in the darkest depths of some cave."

'Ballmer Has Set His Sights on Tablets'

Once again: "It isn't anything but business," Slashdot blogger hairyfeet asserted. "They know there are several popular apps such as VLC that mobile users, especially tablet users, will want, and since it doesn't cause any real conflict, they simply wrote a line in to let it slide."

In fact, "for all the hate MSFT gets, they have never really had a 'walled garden' like Apple has," hairyfeet pointed out. "You could load any app you wanted on a WinMo phone without needing to jailbreak, you can of course use any IDE and write or download any programs from anywhere for Windows."

Now "Ballmer has set his sights on tablets and is not about to turn away ANY app that might give him an advantage," he explained.

"Personally, I think it's gonna make Vista look like win95, not because of FOSS but because the moron is gonna try to sell ARM tablets with the Windows name, which will just cause massive returns and ticked off customers when they find their Windows programs don't actually run on windows," hairyfeet predicted.

Ballmer, however, "is so desperate to get some of that imoney, frankly he doesn't care if he risks his cash cow," hairyfeet concluded. "I hope the board fires him after this stunt and they can bring in one of the office guys or maybe Ray Ozzie to right the ship."

'It's All Found Money'

There's no telling what internal battles went on to enable the Windows Store's refreshing inclusiveness, but "with both the Android and Apple app stores doing a billion downloads a month each, anyone hoping to break into the app market is going to have to appeal to the broadest cross-section of (get out the eye bleach) 'Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers!'" suggested Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

"Apple knows that FOSS-licensed software will be mostly unpaid software, competing directly against the for-pay, fremium, and ad-supported software that makes everyone involved money," she explained. "As the first one to market, Apple simply doesn't need to make 'exceptions' in an attempt to gain market visibility."

With Android, on the other hand, "any income Google gets from sales through market.android.com is a bonus," she added. "Any ad-driven software is equally a win for Google. In essence, it's all 'found money.'"

'Did Microsoft Really Have Any Choice?'

The real question, and "the one that reveals just how much the market has shifted, is this: In the end, did Microsoft really have any choice?" Hudson suggested. "I don't think so. Adding an 'exception' clause was the only way to get all those FOSS-loving Android developers to even take a look at the Windows Store."

Even Ballmer "now realizes that when you're No. 4 in a three-way race between Apple, Google, and Amazon, you do what you have to do and hope to spin it to your advantage," she concluded. "One thing is for sure: This is not Bill Gates' Microsoft."


Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.


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