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Instead of killing Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), open source software could actually make the company stronger. Have I lost my mind with this thesis? Certainly not. Let me explain.

Microsoft's next major Windows Server release, code-named Longhorn, will make-or-break the company's Web 2.0 and enterprise software strategy. The latest test release of Longhorn shipped on April 4, according to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley. Microsoft expects to ship the final product to business customers late this year.

Now, for some unconventional thinking: For Longhorn to truly succeed, I believe Microsoft will need open source application developers in its corner. Sound impossible? Guess again.

Sure, some members of the mainstream press and even some naive members of the IT trade press believe open source applications only run on Linux. How wrong they are. In reality, major open source developers -- from MySQL to SugarCRM -- have long supported Windows. In fact, about 30 percent of SugarCRM deployments run on Windows- rather than Linux-based systems, according to a spokeswoman for SugarCRM.

But that's not good enough. Microsoft needs to move deeper into the open source community. And it needs to move fast. The day Longhorn is ready to ship, Microsoft needs to make sure MySQL, SugarCRM, Centric CRM and other open source application developers are ready to support the new operating system.

Apparently, Microsoft agrees with me. A trusted source says Microsoft recently attempted to join the Open Solutions Alliance. The organization, which includes about a dozen open source companies, declined to admit Microsoft into the group because members worried about Microsoft's motives.

History suggests that Microsoft will continue reaching out to developers. Flash back to 1993. At the time, Microsoft's Windows NT Advanced Server was a new product desperate for customers. In order to stir demand, Microsoft spent several years recruiting big software developers -- companies like CA Inc. (NASDAQ:CA), SAP AG (NYSE:SAP) and even Oracle Corp. (NYSE:ORCL) -- to support NT.

Sure, Oracle and other third-party software providers competed fiercely with Microsoft's own email and database groups. But competition in the application arena stirred demand for Windows NT, and ultimately made Microsoft a server powerhouse. If you were a Microsoft shareholder in the 1990s, NT paid you some huge dividends.

Now, Microsoft needs to create an equally rich market for Longhorn applications. If the company doesn't embrace more open source application partners, rival operating systems like Red Hat (NYSE:RHT) Linux will continue to gain momentum.

Of course, Microsoft's Windows empire was built upon third-party application support. Microsoft somehow forgot that critical rule when it recently shipped Windows Vista for desktops and notebooks. Can anybody name a single great application for Vista? Anyone?

Fact is, there are no killer applications for Vista. For the sake of Microsoft shareholders, customers and partners, let's hope the software giant doesn't make the same mistake with Longhorn.

Source: Open Source To Microsoft's Rescue?