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Integrating Open Source and Windows Applications

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For most of us, the philosophical debate of "open source versus Windows" is reduced to a simple fact: We have both types of systems, and they have to work together. Rick Cook discusses how to make seemingly incompatible formats get along.
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Two Schools of Thought

There are two common schools of thought on integrating open source and Windows applications:

  • It’s a no-brainer, say the open source advocates.
  • It’s so much trouble that it’s not worth the effort, argue the Windows extremists.

As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between. Integrating open source and Windows applications is usually straightforward and sometimes dead easy. But a no-brainer it isn’t. The devil is in the details, and the details are sufficiently devilish to provide endless headaches if you’re not careful. While it’s possible to make too much of the difficulties of integrating open source and Windows applications, the issues are very real and you need to pay attention to them.

Although few enterprises are willing to give up Windows for Linux, "mixed marriages" are becoming increasingly common. For example, you may have a database application built using the open source database MySQL and need to generate reports from that data in Microsoft Access or Microsoft Excel. The problem in these cases is not that the application won’t run under Windows—most open source software exists in Windows versions. The problem is in making it play well with Windows native applications. (Integrating Windows and Linux systems via Samba and Active Directory is a whole other kettle of fish, which we won’t get into here.)

Because of the nature of the current software market, the most common integration is from open source into Windows. That is, the information from open source software has to be made available through Windows applications. However, with the growth of Linux desktops and open source suites such as OpenOffice.org, there’s a growing need to integrate in the other direction—from Windows applications to open source.

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