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Open Source Advocate Invited To Microsoft
Open Source Advocate Invited To Microsoft
(06/15/99, 5:58 p.m. ET)
By Malcolm Maclachlan, TechWeb

Microsoft has invited one of its most vocalcritics to speak at its Redmond, Wash.headquarters.

On June 21, open source advocate Eric Raymond will address a group at Microsoft Research. Raymond is known for publicly challenging -- and sometimes embarrassing -- the software giant. Last fall, he posted the Halloween Document on his website. This leaked internal memo from Microsoft detailed the company's plans for defeating Linux, the open source clone of Unix that has been exploding in popularity.

Raymond's invitation came from Linda Stone, director of the Virtual Worlds Group Microsoft Research, in mid-March. Raymond said rather than offer money, Stone bribed him with something better: dinner with science-fiction writers Greg Bear and Neal Stephenson. Both live in the Seattle area and are apparently friend's of Stone's, Raymond said.

"At first, Eric wasn't that interested," Stone said, explaining why she decided to come up with the dinner.

Stone said she invited to invite Raymond after seeing him speak at PC Forum in mid-March. The Microsoft Research Technology Talks lecture series features academics and thinkers of all stripes, she said, and functions autonomously. Not only would Microsoft CEO Bill Gates probably not be there, she said, she also didn't know if he even knew about Raymond's talk.

"This talk series really isn't related to anything at the company," Stone said. "The invitation came from me."

Raymond said he will talk about his normal themes of why open source makes better software and how it can be made into a viable business model.

Raymond said he had no idea what Microsoft is hoping to get out of the talk. "I wish I knew," he said.

He added he does not think Microsoft has any big open source plans in the near future, despite hints the company has made in the past few months. In April, Microsoft president Steve Ballmer told an audience at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference the company was thinking about opening up the source code to Windows.

These comments were met with skepticism in the open source community. Raymond and other open source advocates sent an open letter to Microsoft in response, welcoming the company to make that move. As the biggest vendor of proprietary software and developer of Windows -- the most popular operating system -- Microsoft is generally regarded as public-enemy No. 1 by the open source community.

Raymond is well-known for his outspoken views, and has sometimes clashed with others in the open source community. He said he is not worried about any sort of backlash from his Microsoft appearance.

"I'm going there to explain to them why they can't win with a closed-source strategy," Raymond said. "If Microsoft goes open source in a big way, that's a win for everyone."

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the Microsoft Research Group has a guest speakers series, and there should not be too much read into having someone talk about open source software.

Another sign of Microsoft's interest in open source comes from user statistics released Monday by Linux.com. Microsoft was the leading corporate visitor to the site in the first two weeks after it opened last month, with 15,000 visits from Microsoft servers.

Overall, the portal reported 25 million hits from 300,000 unique visitors. Linux.com is run by VA Linux Systems, a company where Raymond is a director.

TW

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