Open Source at Microsoft: Microsoft engages SourceSense to develop a new version of Apache POI, some background

Microsoft and Sourcesense recently announced that are partnering to jointly contribute to the development t of a new version of Apache POI, an Apache top level project.

Apache POI support for Open XML is now in development, to get here took about one year and the first release is expected to be available during the second quarter of 2008.Being personally involved in the process from the very beginning, I want to tell you about how building bridges and find ways to make Microsoft and Open Source firms work together is coming true.

bridgeA useful bridge by petetaylor

Last year I have been consulting to Microsoft Italy to help them to better understand the free software principles and the business model and to validate their thoughts on how to find ways to cooperate with the FOSS world on interoperability, licensing schemas and possibly joint initiatives.

Andrea Valboni, Microsoft Italy CTO, at that stage was involved in the OOXML process, and one of the point of discussion about that format was: how people can use IT, how developers can take advantage from it. The issue of a reference implementation was coming out in the debate of that time. Here the full story, in Andrea’s words:

I was discussing this over the phone with Roberto Galoppini (we have been not always on the same page,but our interaction have been always very respectful and intellectually honest), he was not very much convinced that a reference implementation could help developers, although a good idea. His point of view was more in favor of a set of libraries that can avoid developers to enter into the format’s details and concentrate on the application functionalities. I then asked whether he knew someone that can be interested in doing this.

Having been the founder of the Italian open source consortium (CIRS) I do know many Italian open source companies, and I knew I had the perfect match with Sourcesense, an italian-rooted Open Source systems integrator with a strong international outreach and a great track record in participation to Open Source communities: I knew Gianugo Rabellino, Sourcesense’s CEO and a well know member of the Apache Software Foundation, was and is the right man for the job, and I was in touch with Marco Bruni, founder of Pro-netics group, an Italian IT group with solid Open Source roots and the company behind Sourcesense. I added two and two, and I made introductions.

Getting back to Andrea’s tale, here how it goes on:

So a beautiful sunny morning some days after that talk, I was sitting in a bar in Rome, having a coffee with Roberto and Marco Bruni, discussing about formats and listening to opinions of an open source company’s manager. Also the dialog I had with Marco was very open and frank, we both explained our reciprocal points of view and ideas, then he talked about Java libraries they are using to access Office binary formats. As I asked for more info, he talked me about the Jakarta/POI project [Java API To Access Microsoft Format Files] of the Apache Foundation.

Sometime after that meeting, Gianugo was sitting in our office at Segrate, explaining to me and few legals the Apache License and more in general the open source licensing and how the Apache Foundation is working and the communities rules working under this umbrella: he was pretty clear, that’s are the rules, if we would like to create a cooperation.

And it happened, the agreement took form day after day.

I am glad I have been helping to make it happen playing the open source hub role, I really wish this partnership to be the first of many other involving open source firms, possibly European and Italian ones!

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