Microsoft embrace of open source- Hell freezes over!

Microsoft has made customary noises (and then walked the talk) about supporting Linux. I am glad they did it because it would mean that I will go back to the distro hopping days of yore. My youth was “misspent” in trying out different versions of Linux and to this day, I have very fond memories of the community that supported me in this pursuit. I continue to advocate for open source community and its adoption in the enterprise. It is a sure shot way to rationalise costs and save precious resources for research and development, instead.

Here’s a very interesting account of how a major big tech company embraced Linux- and gives an insider account of few key people who made this possible. I won’t go back to the old days of Microsoft trying to extinguish Linux- those days are far gone. I’d rather say that Microsoft had to accept the writing on the wall that their operating system is the worst on the planet. It is “dominant” because of the perverse business practises and it has been squarely beaten black and blue in the “cloud”. So much so, it is widely perceived that those looking for “bargains” end up with Azure. Sure!

The linked article speaks about the history, its change of direction and the cloud.


Thanks to the so-called Halloween documents, revealed by open-source co-founder Eric S. Raymond, we know exactly what Microsoft thought about Linux and open source:OSS [Open-Source Software] poses a direct, short-term revenue and platform threat to Microsoft, particularly in server space.”… There was nothing new about this approach. Microsoft had used this same technique against Netscape in the browser wars. You know it best from the phrase Paul Maritz, then Microsoft’s executive vice president of the Platforms Strategy and Developer Group. used  in 1998 to describe Microsoft’s response to the browser threat as “embrace, extend, extinguish.”

Netscape was a disaster. It is repeating for Mozilla- the “non-profit” organisation that markets Firefox. They are completely mismanaging the browser and it is directionless. Google Chrome is decimating it completely.

The enlightened insiders:

Even then though Microsoft was realizing mindlessly ignoring Linux wasn’t a winning long-term strategy. In 2004, Microsoft hired Bill Hilf, one of IBM’s Linux and open-source leaders. Hilf recalled, “Microsoft called up and said: ‘We don’t understand this open-source stuff. And we need people who do.’ I was like the first astronaut on the planet.”
Following this, Ramji wrote a strategy paper in 2005 on SaaS, which showed that “Open source was a self-organizing keiretsu, with economic and structural advantages that Microsoft could not compete with.  No licensing cost meant no fear of experimentation and no concern for scaling up a SaaS company.  No barrier to contribution meant that the software could improve in a virtuous cycle based on what practitioners needed.
So, he recommended that Microsoft establish a program “to give all Microsoft software away for free to startups (so we could level the economic playing field) and start to build and support open source (so we could level the structural playing field).  The paper became the basis of BizSpark. After this, Hilf asked Ramji to take on a new role of leading Linux and Open-Source Technology Strategy.

I think the direction changed after it. Again I will spare you the details but this is an interesting aspect of their history.

The cloud changed everything:

“In hindsight,” Ramji recalled, “probably the single biggest thing I was part of was working with Horacio Gutierrez and his team to change Microsoft’s engineering rules on Open Source licenses, so that our engineers could contribute to MIT and Apache-licensed software freely and without concern.  Before that, there were some arcane beliefs that the ‘residuals’ of looking at open source software would ‘taint’ any Microsoft engineer such that they could not work on Microsoft software again.”

They were right. By 2015, Mark Russinovich, CTO of Microsoft Azure, came to an open-source conference and said today’s Microsoft’s motto was “Enable, integrate, release, and contribute.” He added, that for Azure “to be a viable cloud platform, we needed to support Linux. We started with Linux on the day we launched Azure.”

The cloud facts prove this out. Sasha Levin, a Microsoft Linux kernel developer, revealed in 2019 that “the Linux usage on our cloud has surpassed Windows”.

This following quote is critical to understand why I support open source in the enterprises:

Gossman and the rest of Microsoft have also realized that “Open-source communities allow you to scale beyond any single organization – even with a large organization like Microsoft we found enormous value in people in the community bringing in ideas, feedback, fixes, new features, and more into the software. Open source allows people to share knowledge and practices about how to operate and run software – that knowledge can be contributed back upstream into projects for the value of others in the community.

Open source also allows continuity beyond the organisation’s life spans. The so-called “legacy systems” were designed for resilience and stability and not to show a shiny new object.

Although the author concludes that Microsoft is an open source (and Linux) company, I don’t agree with him. Microsoft will never change its DNA, though it may have aligned itself to the market realities.

Microsoft is zilch and nada when it comes to “innovation” (though not saying anything about their gaming division). and it was common sense to see the writing clearly on the wall.

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