In a strange strategic decision, Microsoft has elected to expand its support for open source projects that compete directly with some of the corporation's core products. Microsoft is giving money to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), which makes the dominant Web browser platform, contributing code to the PHP project, which makes a Web server application programming environment, and offering royalty-free specifications to its Windows Server and .NET Framework.

"\[This\] is not a move away from IIS as Microsoft's strategic Web server technology," Sam Ramji, senior director of Microsoft's platform strategy, wrote in a blog post describing the move. "We will continue to invest in IIS for the long term and are currently under way with development of IIS 8. It is a strong endorsement of The Apache Way, and opens a new chapter in our relationship with the ASF. We have worked with Apache POI, Apache Axis2, Jakarta, and other projects in the last year, and we will continue our technical support and interoperability testing work for this open source software."

But why would Microsoft do such a thing? The software giant made the announcements at OSCON, an open source convention held recently in Portland, Oregon. Representatives of the company said there that this week's announcement is really just an expansion of its existing Open Specification Promise (OSP), by which the software giant opening up its proprietary technologies to the patent-free world of open source and easing the restrictions inherent in moving between open source and Microsoft's proprietary software.

The biggest news here, perhaps, is that Microsoft is easing the most controversial aspect of the OSP. Previously, open source developers accessing Microsoft's protocols could only create non-commercial software. Now that is no longer the case.

Microsoft made a slew of specific investments as well. It will sponsor the Apache project and donate $100,000 to the ASF. It will also provide code to a PHP-based code library called ADOdb, which seeks to provide Microsoft-like database access to the PHP environment, which competes with Microsoft's Active Server Pages (ASP) and ASP .NET technologies. Microsoft's contribution will allow PHP developers to access the company's SQL Server database.

Finally, Microsoft is adding the interoperability protocols for two very high profile products--Windows Server and the .NET Framework--to its OSP, which allows open source developers and projects to interact with Microsoft's patented technologies without fear of legal recourse. Other Microsoft products under the OSP umbrella include the Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) image format (used by Virtual PC and Hyper-V), the Office Open XML and 97-2007 binary document formats, and various graphics formats such as WMF, among many others.