Microsoft has often come up short in its attempts to thaw out relations with open source communities, but the company seems to have found success with PHP developers.
"I remember the good old days where open source was the hippie kind of people, and Microsoft were the business/enterprise people, and it was like water and fire. You could not put those people together in one room or it would be some kind of a war," says Michelangelo van Dam, co-founder and president of the PHP user group PHPBenelux in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
A few years ago, Microsoft approached van Dam and colleagues, saying the company wanted to ensure that PHP could install natively on Windows. Since then, Microsoft has continued discussions with the PHP community and has built automation tools into Windows Server, making it easier to install PHP on Windows than on Linux, according to van Dam.
Microsoft says it started reaching out to PHP community members in 2006 because programmers were choosing to deploy PHP applications on Unix or Linux rather than Windows. Since 2009 Microsoft has offered the Web Platform Installer tool to install PHP on Windows.
"We started talking, and we got to see that Microsoft is actually opening up to our world of PHP," van Dam says. "And they're doing a great job at it. We met with Microsoft here in Belgium in 2008 and have been working closely together with them to see how we can incorporate their products, their services, into our worlds and help them by giving them feedback from our community."
Van Dam met recently with Gianugo Rabellino, Microsoft's new director of open source communities, and says the hire should help Redmond improve its reputation a bit among free software circles. "He is the right person to sit on that chair for Microsoft," van Dam says. Rabellino says his main focus right now "is to enable PHP to shine on our platforms," including Windows Azure.
The PHP scripting language has been around since 1995 and is distributed as free software under the PHP licence.
The PHP licence is approved by the Open Source Initiative, but it is incompatible with the GNU GPL. The reason, as explained at GNU.org, is that "it includes strong restrictions on the use of 'PHP' in the name of derived products." Microsoft's own open source licences, the Microsoft Public License and Microsoft Reciprocal License, are also incompatible with the GPL. But this is not uncommon. The Mozilla Public License, for example, lacks GPL compatibility.
Microsoft still has a ways to go in convincing larger portions of the open source community that it means no harm, according to van Dam. Microsoft still has an uneasy relationship with Linux, of course, and van Dam says there is still reluctance among open source advocates to partner with Microsoft.
"It has to wear off over time," he says. "It is something you cannot change by flipping a switch. It will require a couple more years."
But van Dam says his community of PHP developers has, in general, welcomed Microsoft's contributions. The user group even held a contest in which PHP developers were invited to create applications for Windows.
"The PHP community welcomes everyone," he says. "We don't care who you are, what your background is. In that perspective, we made the people from Microsoft feel right at home. They came to listen to us. They wanted to know why we haven't developed applications for the Windows platform. And they really listened and said, 'Hey, we need to do something about this.'"
Van Dam adds, "It's truly amazing to see that Microsoft now has learned the value of open source, knowing that open source is here to stay. Instead of fighting it with all their power and marketing, they actually embrace it and I think that's a very good thing."