Microsoft's announcement of Linux extensions for Systems Center settles an old debate I once had with Bill Gates. Four years ago, I suggested Microsoft could do a better job at cross-platform management, but Microsoft's chairman wouldn't hear of it. Now, the company is doing just that.Microsoft's new System Center Operations Manager 2007 Cross Platform Extensions, released yesterday for beta testing, are described as providing "core foundational cross-platform support out of the box" for Red Hat and Suse Linux, as well as several flavors of Unix. "We're taking Systems Center forward to manage not just the Microsoft environment, but also managing Unix, Solaris, HP-UX, and AIX, as well as Linux," senior VP Bob Muglia said at Microsoft's Management Summit in Las Vegas.
However, rewind to my interview with Gates at the Comdex show in November 2003, and you'll see that wasn't always a popular idea. The subject was Windows-Linux interoperability, and Gates was pushing back.
Me: InformationWeek recently ran a story that questioned whether Microsoft is doing enough to support compatibility between Linux and Windows. Do you feel Microsoft is doing more than people realize? Will there be more?
Gates: Tell me any area we're not doing enough. I mean seriously, what area do you think we could do more in? We run Unix shell scripts. We run Unix libraries. …We've had Unix as a primary element in the data center for most of the history of Microsoft. So, supporting NFS, supporting all of these things related to Unix, we're extremely good at that.
Me: But will you go beyond what you've done, to make it work more closely with the open-source community in some way?
Gates: I don't know what you mean. We take Solaris, Unix applications, and allow them to recompile and run on top of Windows. Name a Unix protocol--we support every one of those Unix protocols. If there's something more you think can be done, tell me what it is. I mean, this is Unix, it's not something new and different.
Me: One thing that comes to mind, it may be tangentially related, is the Microsoft Communications Protocol Program, the licensing of communications protocols for interoperability. Some people seem to think that by now there should be more licensees.
Gates: Name a corporate customer who has some interoperability thing they want from us, because we have interoperability. At every level, we're building interoperability. And so you've got to map it back to some customer [issue]. Believe me, if people thought there was some customer demand for using our protocols, they would license our protocols. The fact is, there are lots of these things out there that create the connections.
Me: It's not just an interoperability issue. There are other things like Microsoft's management tools being able to manage a heterogeneous environment--for example, Windows and Unix/Linux at the same time. That is something, according to our research, that your customers would like to see.
Gates: Management tools from us? It's not like there's a shortage of people who do that.
At that point, I changed the subject because, as you can see, Microsoft's chief software architect (at the time) wasn't about to budge on the issue of whether Microsoft should be more proactive in delivering Windows-Linux support. (Here's the full transcript of the interview.)
Since then, the company has obviously had a change of heart. While partners are still part of the equation, Microsoft is assuming more responsibility for cross-platform management. It's even gone so far as to bake two open source technologies -- WS-Management and OpenPegasus -- into Operations Manager as part of that push. On a separate but related note, in the few months since Microsoft has published documentation of its protocols on the Web, there have been 224,000 downloads.
How much more must Microsoft do to be viewed as a good citizen in the world of open, standards-based computing? That will be the subject of an upcoming story in InformationWeek.