Robert Youngjohns, President of Microsoft North America, might at first glance seem an odd choice of speakers for an open source conference. After all, the software giant gets the lion's share of its revenue from its decidedly non-open source Windows operating system and Office suite of business applications.
But over the past few years, Microsoft has been more forthcoming in acknowledging the prevalence of open source in the enterprise and has made deals with companies like Novell to insure interoperability.
Youngjohns spoke energetically as he detailed how Microsoft is actively engaged in ensuring that its solutions are interoperable with open source software. He said the company is committed to building the best delivery client and platform for future business applications, whether they are open source or not.
He opened his keynote by demonstrating interoperability with a screen of the forthcoming Windows 7 running Microsoft's Virtual PC, with windows running Ubuntu, Open Solaris and Windows XP.
The Windows XP instance was also running a Sinclair Spectrum emulator with a program from 1982 in it. However, at the end, it was clear that not all the audience was sold on interoperability as an open source solution. Youngjohns faced hostile questions about whether Microsoft was running open source software in any production environments and specifics about which datacenters were adopting Microsoft's interoperability solutions.
Youngjohns declined to answer these questions.
Jonathan Schwartz, President and CEO of Sun Microsystems talked about Sun's complete commitment to open source. He specifically mentioned the advantages open source offers for cloud computing, where he believes the future of business computing lies.
Robert Sutor, Vice President for Open Source and Linux at the IBM Software Group, talked about how business faces huge challenges that Linux, with its lower cost and more flexible and extensible implementations, can help address.
Each speaker conveyed a key strategy for business and open source. Together they added up to what these big three tech giants see as a recipe for open source and business.
Schwartz said that Sun is having great success with open source by using it to drive adoption at every level while understanding that much of the adoption is by users who have no intention to pay. But big businesses and governments now understand the value of open source, he added. In addition, as businesses succeed and grow with open source, they convert to paying customers.
"Our customers are the ones who have more money than time," he said.
Schwartz comments were consistent with his earlier blog post that asserts innovation and service on top of open source are the keys to a successful business founded on open source.
Youngjohns, previously an executive at both IBM and Sun Microsystems, said that Microsoft is finding that interoperability is key for its business and that Microsoft's acceptance of interoperability and willingness to support open source is driven purely by business pragmatism. He added that all of its tools are now being built to work in a heterogeneous environment.
"Customers want us to help bring costs down in a heterogeneous environment," he said.
Youngjohns also said Microsoft is developing its Windows and Net software stack to be the best platform for delivering open source applications coming from anywhere. He also points out that Microsoft went to a great deal of effort to have some of its previously proprietary but widely adopted document formats become open standards.
IBM's Robert Sutor took a different approach. He noted that Linux is already established in the today's IT infrastructure, from mobile phones to GPS, through routers, hubs and servers to computing devices on the desktop and up to supercomputers .
"The world has awakened becoming interconnected, instrumented and intelligent," he said.
Sutor argued that the combination of all these pieces of infrastructure can be used to solve many of the problems right in front of us. He then pointed out that Linux is a common factor across the current IT infrastructure, that it is more flexible, scalable and virtualizable than any other operating system.
"The world is getting smarter, and Linux is a catalyst," he said.
As the conference moderator pointed out, these three approaches: extend, grow and build upon open source; interoperate with everything; and use what is universal and already available to solve real problems; together offer a high-level roadmap for any IT business founded on open source.
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.