Microsoft has a history and/or image of being a competition-crushing behemoth, with a not-so-open attitude. And I mean open in a general way: they're not into open source or open standards, giving away stuff for free, contributing to the community, etc.
Yet one might think they're opening up lately. The deal with Novell was controversial to say the least, but it showed they've at least started noticing Linux. The Express Editions of their development tools were an attempt to bind more students to their technologies, but now they're starting to give the full (professional) editions away for free! Apart from that, there's also the releasing of the .NET source code, and the whole Codeplex community, which shows Microsoft is starting to see the value of a community.
Of course, all this could be (and probably is) part of a bigger campaign to stay ahead of competition and to get people to use and like their products. But in the grand picture, I believe Microsoft is losing some of it's big mean corporate doings. Although it would be naive to think they will open up fully. Maybe in a few years from now, the pendulum will swing the other way, who knows. And let's not forget the whole OOXML - ODF debacle.
Anyway, latest news is that Microsoft is opening their protocols and APIs, which is definitely a step we wouldn't have expected even a year ago. It remains to be seen, of course, whether or not there's a catch somewhere, but it's a good step for many developers, I believe.
The Register sums it up fairly well: "All in all, it's funny to see how slowly a company like Microsoft moves. It was engaging in public debates about the evils of the GPL and funding SCO a few years ago. Now Microsoft has awoken to the notion that it can ride the free publicity happiness train just by seeming less rigid."
But anyway, if we can get free stuff out of it, we will! So, if you're a student somewhere, go check out the DreamSpark site, for free MS development tools. Yes, you have to be a student, they're not going to play Santa Claus now, will they.