Microsoft: We Use FreeBSD

Despite the company's bitter campaign against open source software, Microsoft continues to use FreeBSD to power important functions of its Hotmail free e-mail service. Much to the chagrin of the folks at Redmond, FreeBSD and Apache continued to run Hotmail for several years after it was purchased in 1997. Microsoft publicly claimed to have removed all traces of FreeBSD last summer, and even published a case study documenting its experiences. Microsoft told BetaNews that solutions such as FreeBSD are in use throughout its IT infrastructure. A spokesperson also clarified the the software giant's position on OSS technologies, and views on GPL licensing.

Microsoft maintains however, that it is migrating to its own proprietary software and any delays are meant to ensure a positive experience for its customers.

Contrary to recent claims, the popular Hotmail service does not run entirely on the Windows 2000 platform. First reported by the Wall Street Journal, FreeBSD developer Trevor Johnson determined that Microsoft was still using the open source operating system for DNS hosting and also for tracking advertisements. It has also been reported that FreeBSD software components are utilized in Microsoft products, such as Windows 2000. BSD's TCP/IP stack, a vital communication protocol, is rumored to have been used in several Windows operating systems, enabling users to connect to the Internet.

When asked about Microsoft's use of open source software, company spokesperson Rick Miller told Betanews, "We do run a small percentage of FreeBSD on our network. Our use of FreeBSD at Hotmail, however, is simply a legacy issue from when we purchased Hotmail. Our primary concern is the Hotmail user experience - to that end the migration process is being done slowly and carefully to make sure that we have no impact on the user experience."

He added, "At Microsoft we run several of the largest web sites and services on the planet. We also run a network for our 40k plus employees. If you look across our web services we have acquired networks built by other companies, some of which have included FreeBSD. Once we acquire these networks we have to manage their migration. In doing this migration our singular priority is our customer and ensuring the most seamless transition possible. To the extent this migration takes time, we always err on the side of delivering the best experience to our customers."

Miller also offered a clarification to Redmond's overall views on OSS technologies. When asked if it was hypocritical of Microsoft to use open souce software while openly proclaiming its inferiority, BetaNews was told, "We have also been very clear that we believe the OSS model has benefits. In the end - it comes down to choices that businesses make about technologies and licenses that meet a specific need. Our primary concern in the Hotmail case is with the people who use the Hotmail service. FreeBSD is not a better technology; it is just the technology that was in place at the time of acquisition. Businesses have to make choices and we will always put the customer first."

However, the Wall Street Journal reports that a source within Microsoft revealed the company sees technical superiority in BSD for certain tasks. Microsoft is also reported to have increased its reliance on BSD after embarrassing Web site outages in January.

This farily positive review of OSS draws stark contrast to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s apparent "slip of the tongue" when he depicted open source technology as being a "cancer." Miller remarked, "As we said immediately after the article appeared, Steve misspoke. He was referring to the GPL, which by its viral nature threatens IP and is bad for our customers, partners and the industry." Although Millers tows the official company line, Microsoft continues to demonstrate an Orwellian doublespeak, saying one thing while its actions do not match its rhetoric.

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