What a bringdown for Mr. Ballmer! He, who once charged that open source was a cancer on the software industry must have decided that it is more benign than he once thought.

Either that, or he has realized that re-inventing the wheel, when you can’t seem to do anything right might not be the way to go.

Cade Metz, in an article appearing in The Register, states that the new search tool will be (is?) built using open source code. after reminding us of the Hotmail purchase, where Microsoft tried to rip apart a well performing system, and found that it was not the best of ideas.

When Microsoft purchased Hotmail in December of 1997 for an estimated $400m, it ran on FreeBSD. But Redmond ripped out the open source OS and replaced it with Windows 2000. Or at least, it tried to.

More than a decade on, Microsoft still harbors some sort of deep-seated urge to destroy the free software movement it once compared to cancer. But unmitigated open-source antipathy has given way to a kind of free software schizophrenia. In need of extra licensing dollars, Microsoft may sue a Dutch GPS maker over its use of Linux. But in its ongoing struggle to catch the un-catchable Google, Redmond has no problem reversing its Hotmail-era attitudes.

The article continues telling us that the company acquired its search engine (as it has usually done things from the start!) from a company called Powerset, which, in turn, used parts of its code from the Palo Alto Research Center and its main algorithm from the same source as Yahoo. The search index comes from a platform called Hadoop, also open source.

The strange thing about this, as one continues reading the story, is that it immediately occurs that Microsoft is expecting to outdo Yahoo, while using the very same guts, as its means of doing it. Does this not seem strange to anyone but me?

When June comes around, it will be interesting to see who will be persuaded to use the Kumo search tool. Money will only sway for so long, and since Microsoft is not known for its generosity, so that any monetary inducements will be quick to leave the landscape.

Is it possible that Mr. Ballmer has been shown the error of his ways? It would be nice to think so; chances are better of finding the proverbial needle in a very large haystack. The quest for out-Googling Google has led to some pretty silly moves, and this is probably the silliest.

When Microsoft can get its collective eye back on the ball, and start delivering the kind of operating system that works without problems, and a revision of Office that once again lures users due to want, rather than enforced need, it will have accomplished something truly astounding.

By the way, they really should get someone who can give meaningful codenames, relating what a project is about, and not exacting cacophonous laughter from all but the most comatose.

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The future ain’t what it used to be.Yogi Berra

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