Open Source at Microsoft: Open Source Interoperability Initiative, NXT Partner Program and Commercial Open Source Firms

Microsoft announced a new interoperability approach, opening up previously secret specifications and protocols to open source developers (and heroes), providing a covenant not to sue them for development or non-commercial distribution of implementations of these protocols.

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The Open Source Interoperability Initiative is just started, and the EU seems skeptical on Microsoft sharing plans, as is Red Hat, while Groaklaw recaps us on Microsoft’s promises. ArsTechnica reports that the EU investigation seems to have played a role, stating that Microsoft may not be up for yet another fight with regulators.

Besides the ballot resolution meeting, I doubt Microsoft is changing everything so that it can stay the same. Beyond any possible speculation of the real meaning of the non-commercial covenant, Microsoft today is probably giving up with its vertically integrated corporation approach.

The Microsoft’s de-verticalization has begun, Microsoft opening its interfaces and APIs will allow applications to be hooked more easily its products. This is a huge change, and it will affect the IT market at large. Before exploiting it further, and how and if it will impact on the open source market, a little background.

One of the most promising value of open source software is that its licensing enables coopetition. The neologism refers to a market situation in which two or more organizations compete and cooperate simultaneously. The non-rivalrous nature of software distributed under an OSI compliant license is the basis on which cooperation among open source firms can take place.

The Observatory of European SMEs, given the importance of High-tech SMEs in Europe , analyzed success factors and among them the role of networks:

Studies dealing with barriers to networking and co-operation in the area of high-tech SMEs identify a number of
reasons hampering the formation of networks among these enterprises. Many of these factors are the same as for SMEs in general, e.g. different objectives and expectations among partners and differences in enterprise culture. Also, the lack (or the importance respectively) of a ‘co-ordinator’, e.g. a larger leading firm or an agency, is relevant for the networking among high-tech SMEs, too. [..] small and large high-tech enterprises seem to have different motives to engage in networking: for high-tech SMEs the main motivator is to achieve (quick) access to markets and credibility. Hence, networking is seen to be a ‘necessity’ for high-tech SMEs. In contrast, for large high-tech firms the reasons to engage in networks include primarily access to competitive R&D and technology. [..] These fundamentally different approaches imply that smaller firms are rather oriented towards short term and concrete results. SMEs want projects to have a quick path to market and achieve returns as quickly as possible. However, networking often requires a lot of time-consuming communication and efforts before actual results are achieved and benefits are not visible immediately. But SMEs have difficulties in allowing time and delays for different processes and exchange of information. A further consequence is that SMEs prefer to form one to one collaborations rather than collaborations between groups of enterprises.

Open source consortia and other “loosely coupled” organizations among open source firms could definitely play an important role to foster communities, but as a matter of fact they suffer from above mentioned limitations.

Despite the recent rise of interest toward coopetitive alliances, effective coopetition doesn’t occur too often. Strategic-business literature lack of descriptions explaining how organizations should manage a coopetitive relationship, and how they in practice manage to compete and cooperate with other organizations.

How co-operation and competition could possibly merge together to form a strategic interdependence among firms, eventually giving rise to a coopetitive system of value creation?

ZEA Partners experience shows the importance of the creation of an intermediate organization, providing rules and regulations, aiming to secure the long term survival of the association. ZEA Partners is on duty to resolve conflicts, and considering that fields of expertise are not complementary, one of the most important reason to become a ZEA partner is definitely to get a more formal status. Organizations within ZEA Partners are willing to cooperate on activities that are far away from applications that could generate an income:

It is knowledge that is not close to an application, and that means that it is knowledge that can easily be shared.

Therefore OS firms sharing the same knowledge can easier co-operate through customer distance (i.e. the closer to the customer, the more competition). The rules and regulations that an intermediate organization could issue don’t include licensing to manage the coopetitive relationship.

But the concept of competition might include relationships with suppliers and customers, rather than restrict coopetition only to relationships among cooperating firms that compete in the same market and want to reach the same customers.

Customers asking for not differentiating IT solutions or not competing (e.g. public administrations), could take advantage of the possibility to share with suppliers assets like source code and also blueprints to implement such technologies. Allowing them to reuse by other customers might turn to be a viable strategy to obtain enhancements and discounts.

Suppliers on the other hand can take advantage of customers’ ability to set user requirements and through blueprints can turn their customers in testimonials, reporting about such best practices.

Now, how does the Open Source at Microsoft fit into the picture?

Microsoft recently launched another initiative, the NXT partner program geared towards Open Source ISVs. The program is aimed at providing open source ISV with information to make it easier to develop and sell open source software on Windows. Microsoft NXT partner provides ISV with a range of services, ranging from marketing support to technical advice, including also business model definition and channel delivery plans.

All in all the Microsoft NXT partner program, the Open Source Interoperability Initiative and the just started Forge New Powers to me seems to be part of a general strategy. As a matter of fact there is a lot of free and open source software deployed on Windows, and Microsoft is refocusing on fostering value creation also partnering with open source firms.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft will eventually give rise to a coopetitive system of value creation in the next future, helping IT firms to exploit the role of networks, as none else could possibly will to do.

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