Category Archives: microsoft


How come I’ve not yet commented on the announcement that Microsoft is buying Github?  OK, pure laziness.  Same reason so much else slips by unblogged.  You’ve got me bang to rights there.

Actually I have commented, albeit elsewhere and not in public.  The question posed to us was whether we had any reaction to it, and the answer was No.  Or at the very least, not yet.  A change to the terms and conditions would call for a reaction.  A change to the user interface and APIs likewise, especially if it involved loss of functionality such as, for example, any tie-in to the new proprietor’s choice of tools.  But a change in ownership doesn’t in itself call for a reaction.

Of course, this is not no-change.  It is a change to the risk profile of using github.  In the past it was VC-backed, and their business was to build a business of real value in the market.  To do that, they had to develop a service of real value to its users (i.e. us), which they did over the years.  But an eventual buyout by some bigco was always on the cards, and in retrospect Microsoft was indeed a likely candidate.  With Microsoft the risk is that it could fall victim to a hostile or misguided corporate agenda.

Microsoft itself has assured us of its good intentions.  I believe those assurances are meant sincerely: the value of Github is its developer community, and they have nothing to gain by alienating us.  They know that a proportion of the userbase will abandon them in a knee-jerk reaction: I guess they factor that into their plans.  On the other hand, no matter how good their intentions, a company the size of Microsoft inevitably encompasses multiple views and Agendas, both good and bad, and internal politics.  I can’t quite dismiss the conspiracy theory that the intention of setting back the github community and a lot of important projects exists somewhere within MS!

On techie discussion fora (e.g. at El Reg), a lot of folks are taking a different view: MS will destroy github as we know it.  They cite MS acquisitions such as skype and linkedin, and others going further back.  Skype is indeed a troubling example, as they have abandoned so many platforms and users: a course of action that would certainly sound the death-knell for github.  But skype was always closed and proprietary, and it’s likely the whole thing was also thoroughly unmaintainable long before MS acquired it.  MS may have been facing an unenviable choice with no satisfactory options (abandoning the whole thing would also create unhappy users, though it would shorten the pain all round).

Taking the longer history, back in the 1980s I was reasonably happy with MS stuff.  Word seemed good at what it did.  MSVC had the huge virtue of decent documentation, in a world where the existence of TFM was a rare thing!  They first really p***ed me off around the turn of the decade, in part with Windows, but much more so when I found myself the victim of proprietary and closely-guarded software[1].  The zenith of their evilness came later in the ’90s with “Embrace and Extend”, the deliberate breaking of published standards, subversion of the ‘net, and unleashing the first great wave of malware on their own users.  Around that time they were not merely a company without innovation (they acquired new things by buying companies from Autoroute to Hotmail after others had proved an idea), they were actively smothering it.  Some think they were also behind the world’s most preposterous software company SCO’s attack on Linux, although they weren’t the only company linked to that by circumstantial evidence.  A track record that left them very short of goodwill or trust among developers.

But that was then.  Again from uncertain memory, the first indication I had of the winds of change was in 2006 when a senior MS man gave a presentation at ApacheCon in Dublin.  This was someone seeking to build bridges and retrieve something from the ashes of its reputation.  Open Source was now on the agenda, and MS – or at least some within it – genuinely wanted to be our friends.  Signals since then have been somewhat mixed, but it seems clear at least that MS is no longer the deeply Evil Empire of twenty years ago.  Indeed, I’m sure that if it had been, such great people as my Apache colleagues Gianugo and Ross would never have joined them.

From that seed (one hopes) was born the company that is now buying Github.  This will be a real acid test for their relationship with open source.  I don’t think they want to fail this one!

[1] As I recollect it, an upgrade left me with some important Word documents that simply couldn’t be loaded, and even transferring to another machine with the old version was no help.  I couldn’t even do what I’d do today: google for any discussion of similar problems, or for relevant tools.

Apache: sponsorship vs membership

It seems Microsoft’s sponsorship of the ASF is being mis-reported as membership, for example here.

That is not merely wrong: it’s impossible. ASF members are not corporations, we’re individuals. We earn membership by what we do, not what we pay[1]. So while it’s entirely possible for Microsoft employees to become members[2], the idea of the company doing so is a non sequiter.

The idea that this gives Microsoft any kind of influence in Apache projects is also nonsense.  Apache projects are managed by individuals who leave behind any corporate affiliations when we don the Apache hat.  The most a company can get is an indirect stake in an Apache project by employing or contracting with key developers, and (AFAIK) the nearest Microsoft has come to that is in their joint project with SourceSense.

[1] Membership of the ASF costs nothing, just as contributing to ASF projects doesn’t pay.

[2] At least, as far as the ASF is concerned, though Microsoft’s attitude towards the common good may have to come quite a lot further. The biggest shift may come if they want badly enough to hire someone who insists on their right to participate in opensource projects.

Apache += Microsoft (sponsorship)

Another OSCON announcement: Microsoft is joining Google and Yahoo as a Platinum Sponsor of the Apache Software Foundation.  That means an additional $100K a year: small-change to MS, but a big benefit to a volunteer-based nonprofit organisation.

This seems to fit Microsoft’s general direction of increasing friendliness to opensource organisations such as ASF who do not pose an ideological or legal problem for them.  This is a progression from past deals such as sponsoring ApacheCon (Dublin 2006, IIRC) and offering free MSDN membership to Apache developers.

Thank you Microsoft.


So that’s how MSIE is an essential core component of Windows, and can’t possibly be removed!

As with any other geek, people expect me to know all about computers, and help them out when something doesn’t work. Never mind that I know nothing about windows, and proceed by trial and error. So, I’ve just been to help a friend get her newly-installed broadband working.

It turned out she was already connected to the ‘net just fine. I popped up a command window, typed in “ping”, and it worked without hesitation. OK, so where’s the problem? She showed me: she brings up MSIE, and it insists that she’s offline and invites her to connect! Evidently it’s too … ummm … smart to notice that the rest of the operating system all around it is connected. She’d already done the “obvious” thing, and tried setting up a new “broadband” connection in MSIE’s menu.

OK, the menu doesn’t have an option for a regular network connection. So I tried just removing the old dialup connections, whereupon it all worked. Evidently they were standing in the way of MSIE using the network!

Well, I take my hat off to the engineers who designed that. It must take a lot of ingenuity to make things quite so gratuitously difficult. Heath Robinson would be proud of you! And that’s the kind of feature that’ll keep you firmly ahead of Linux, Solaris, MacOS, etc, which “just work” when you attach them to a network, and deprive the user of all that mystery and entertainment.

Let’s be clear: The Apache Software Foundation has no position on OOXML.

Microsoft’s OOXML, and in particular the way its going about trying to create a standard of it, is one of the big controversies in IT today. Lots of people have strong views on it.

The ASF doesn’t.

Some of us would prefer it if partisan commentators respected our non-combatent status[1], and didn’t try to hint at an ASF stance on the issue.

The ASF has no reason to hold an official position, for or against OOXML, nor for or against Microsoft’s standardisation efforts. We haven’t even discussed it in the members forum.

Of course, individual members will hold their own views, and it may be relevant to some ASF projects. But even in the vanishingly unlikely event of a view being unanimous across the entire membership and all the projects, that doesn’t make an ASF position.

OK, so why am I writing about a nonexistent position?

Yesterday, the ASF was mentioned in the groklaw feed. So I followed it to the article, and it turns out that on March 19th, a senior IBM employee blogged on the subject. He doesn’t tell any outright lies, but his use of language implicitly enlists the ASF into IBM’s position in opposition to Microsoft. That pisses me off.

Following up on that, I discovered that Microsoft Italy published a press release on March 18th, in which forthcoming support for OOXML in an Apache project is announced[2]. Now at least one Microsoft blogger in english has been spotted spinning “Apache will support OOXML”. Oh dear.

So within two days, that’s both sides dragging the Apache name into their dispute, albeit with a measure of plausible deniability. Wouldn’t it be good if both Microsoft’s and IBM’s official channels could issue statements disowning their respective bloggers’ use of the Apache name?

Oh, and how much here is pure coincidence? The IBM blogger starts by saying noone has claimed ASF support for OOXML yet. That’s the day after the Microsoft press release!

[1] I was going to say “neutrality”, but even that could be seen as a position.

[2] AIUI it’s really more limited: MS and SourceSense entered an agreement to do some work in that direction. Of course I have no inside information on the deal.

MSDN Update

Several weeks ago I blogged about MSDN:

“I have recently received email from Microsoft. They’ve given me an MSDN subscription number, which works to log me on to their site. A bunch of MS developer resources are apparently in the post.”

In the post” was evidently optimistic, and earlier this week I pinged wrowe (our MS contact at Apache) about whether to expect anything. He and others on IRC told me all you get is a membership card, from which I concluded that I’m not missing out on anything.

Now almost as if someone was listening, I’ve finally received the envelope. In addition to a silly card, it contains a little glossy booklet, whose potentially-useful contents are basically a bunch of URLs and contact details, a list of MS products covered by MSDN subscription. A section entitled “Licensing” claims to be “for information purposes only”, from which I infer it clarifies nothing about whether there are areas of MSDN into which it would be seriously unwise to wander.

Another section refers to “Your First Shipment”, which will include “a complete set of discs[1] in a binder”, which is also kind-of what the initial email hinted at. Going by what I’ve heard to date, I have no expectation of any such shipment. That leaves me with a bootstrap problem: I have hitherto:

  • A licensed copy of Windows XP, that was bundled with my now-dead Dell laptop, and older windows versions.
  • A windows partition on my current desktop, installed from the Dell CD after the laptop died.
  • No Internet connectivity from Windows, because it doesn’t seem able to find my current networking hardware.

In general that’s fine by me: I find the idea of exposing windows to the perils of the ‘net pretty terrifying. But there are a few times when one needs it, and bootstrapping MSDN seems like a critical instance thereof. Guess I’ll just have to google for where I can download the relevant driver to get online.

[1] Yes, it uses the English spelling of discs!


I have recently received email from Microsoft. They’ve given me an MSDN subscription number, which works to log me on to their site. A bunch of MS developer resources are apparently in the post.

Those who know me know that I’m not a Windows user. I rarely – maybe once in two or three months – boot a computer into windows. I dislike what I get, and see it as good for games (which I often find horribly addictive) but nothing else. So what am I doing with MSDN?

The first part of the answer is, I’m a developer. Specifically, an Apache developer. And Windows is an important platform for Apache and for some of its users. I already support my own Apache modules on Windows, though that doesn’t mean design or programming – only compilation and minimal testing on the assumption that the modules and any bugs therein are platform-neutral. In fact, since my old laptop (with a windows partition) died about 17 months ago, that’s the only thing I’ve used windows for.

But there’s more to it than that. There are good reasons I might want to undertake more complex work on Windows. For example, having written a driver for FreeTDS under Apache DBD, I can hope to maintain it if and only if I have access to the resources I expect the MSDN to bring to me.

The second part of the answer is, MS needs developers like me on-side. They know they command little goodwill amongst developers, and attract a good deal of suspicion.  MS appears to be moving towards open source in some areas, and would presumably like to develop relationships with open source projects that are beneficial or neutral to their own interests.  Apache is firmly vendor-neutral, and has a range of projects of interest to Windows users.

So, a little while ago, Microsoft made an offer to the ASF, to provide us with complimentary MSDN licenses for those of us who may benefit from them.  It is, or should be, mutually beneficial, for reasons that should be clear.

How much use I’ll make of it remains a big unknown.  I expect that any substantial upgrade to my windows-fu will be a big learning curve with a lot of cursing and swearing, and may happen only when a client demands and pays for it.  But at a minimum, I should hope to be able to simplify the labour-intensive chore of compiling modules on windows, and move to compiling my own APR and httpd there.  And with a bit of luck, I might find time to play with the databases we support with DBD.


The BBC’s World Business Review just discussed the ‘net, with reference to social networking sites, online privacy, and identity. Several guests from the industry, and a better than average discussion.

Quote of the day: Microsoft were due to join this discussion, but their own equipment failed.

The BBC seem to have their own problems too: at the time of writing, the link still gives you an earlier edition, on the unrelated subject of Zimbabwe.