Open Source And Open Minds

Last week I attended a very interesting event called "Open Art Event Munich". I was invited to see Mr. James Utzschneider, General Manager Open Source Strategy at Microsoft as well as Mr. Andreas Urban who takes care of Microsofts activities related to Open Source in Germany. I was pretty skeptic about the event in general. Microsoft and Open Source? Do both fit in a sentence at all?

We're In The Game Called Open Source

Granted, there's Outercurve with Codeplex. And most recently, we happily observe alot of open source projects in .NET Ecosystem, even from Microsofts "inner circle", like ASP.NET MVC and Nuget. Plus there's plenty of momentum in the .NET Community towards open source projects, especially when it comes to tools and frameworks.

However, for me there's still a strange feeling of discrepancy between "Microsoft" and "Open Source". Now, with the Open Art event in Munich, I had the chance to talk with the chief strategist of Microsoft in person to find answers for this surreal picture of Microsoft's Open Source Initiative.

Open Source Is Important For All Of Us

One of the first (and most obvious) questions I was lucky to ask Mr. Utzschneider was: "Why do you care about open source anyway?". His answer was quite simple: "Why shouldn't we care anyway?"

It's worth to have a look behind the curtains of his short & snappy answer. The open source idea as well as the community has matured and is a vital part of our life. Linux as operating system runs on a gazillion of devices, from coffee-machines up to parking-lot-systems. PHP drives millions of websites, ranging from blogs up to world-changing websites like Wikipedia. That's why Open Source is important for all of us.


I personally believe that Microsoft realizes the importance of Open Source for our society (and therefore our economy, as well). Apparently, Microsoft is not trying to make significant changes to business models or its identity just for the sake of the Open Source movement. Instead, Microsoft aims to integrate with Open Source.

It's like two families from different cultures now living next to eachother in the same street called "IT Road". At first sight, it seems impossible to be neighbors. Different cultures, different traditions, different languages.

However, as time forces both to live and see each other, a common understanding of "live and let live" is established. The next step is being a respectful, polite, friendly and aiding neighbor for each other. That's the stage Microsoft is aiming with Open Source right now.

Intellectual Things

However, it's not all shiny weather at "IT Road". One of the biggest topics we're facing with the open source debate these days is intellectual property (in short, IP). IP is a key factor for success in software development economy.

For propietary software, the situation is quite clear. The message is really simple: "I invented it, I made it, I sell it. It's mine." No idealism, just capitalism. Straight forward.

For Open Source, it's by far more complicated. Just have a look at what licensing possibilities you have if you're willing to publish and share your sources.

Once you're through the jungle of licenses, you're ready to share your source. Let's say your software is a blast and is being used day by day by thousands of users. Thousands of users have thousands of different tasks, thousands of different ideas and wishes. The level of support & maintenance for a successful Open Source project is not to be underestimated, IMHO.

Mixed Feelings: Freemium

Ok, support and maintenance of a large user base and/or project actually is considerable effort. That's one of the main reasons why there's a business model called Freemium. Freemium is sort of an hybrid vehicle in software landscape. It delivers value to both the free and premium user base. While basic, limited functionality is available for free, advanced or high volume features need to be payed for.

In Open Source world, Freemium can both vitalize and poison. I think it's the dose making Freemium a win/loose model.

You need money to continue delivering value for free, that's a fact. However, once the part of "money making" becomes more and more important, Open Source is kind of lost at sea. Take the recent developments around Mono as a living example.

The Definition Of Open Source

What's Open Source then? Is Mono, ASP.NET MVC or Nuget really Open Source? From an idealistic perspective, a clear definition of Open Source is needed. According to OSI, Open Source needs to be:

  • freely distributable,
  • source code included,
  • derivable,
  • attributed to author,
  • non-discriminating,
  • license-keeping,
  • neutralized to product or platform.

You decide.

Nonetheless, I personally think that the "definition" of Open Source is not only restricted to materials or intellectual property. To me, Open Source has a bold cultural aspect as well. I won't dig into details here because I know this topic is epic. Maybe I'll have the chance to blog about my own perspective of the culture of Open Source in future. Nonetheless, Microsoft, IBM, Mozilla, Apple, Google and whatever great software vendors you know - I think all are aware of the fact that there's more to Open Source than just "Open Source".

The Next Level

I want to get back to my impressions of the Open Art Event and Mr. Utzschneider. In his speech, Mr. Utzschneider mentioned that he's glad to see that we as software developers and digital enthusiasts have the chance to create great things. Everybody should be free to create, share and use the things he's interested in.

Mr. Utzschneider continued by telling us that it's a good thing to see Microsoft employees using IPads and MacBook users to see using Windows 7. He continued to describe that software is about enabling possibilies and opening minds:

"Software is not only Function, it's Art as well. Creating great things is a creative, artful task. I'm from Seattle, and as many of you might know, Seattle is popular for great Music. Seattle is the Home of great artists like Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana and many more. Especially the Jazz culture is vital and bright.

I really love music. In my precious spare moments, I support a local Seattle project called KEXP. It once was a radio station, now it's a project supporting various local artists and newcomers. The platform broadcasts hundreds of concerts a year with all those great artists. At KEXP, it's the artist and his art being in focus. For example, some artists may choose to provide their songs for free while others may want to have a small amount of monetary compensation for all the hard work and efforts. And that's ok.

The key point here is that everything is possible. You're not forced to give away everything for free. And of course you don't need to go commercial to gain audience and respect. The major benefit and joy is, in fact, being open-minded in an open-minded society."

Open Source And Open Minds

I honestly need to admit it: Mr. Utzschneiders speech left me impressed and inspired me to think over this whole Open Source and Open Minds topic. I truly believe that we as software developers as well as software consumers need to realize and accept that all colors are beautiful.

It's not Microsoft producing the best software products in the world. It's not Linux being the best operating system in the world. It's not Google providing the best mobile experience in the world. It's not Apple changing everything, again and again.

It's you to do and use what is best for you.

What I have learnt from this Open Art Event and Mr. Utzschneider is that being Open Minded is not easy. However, being Open Minded is the key for us to open others minds, hearts, creativity and emotions.

That's what we should do with software. That's what I do with software.

Be Open Minded.

(c) Copyright 1998 - 2014 Ilker Cetinkaya.