Linux was once referred to as a cancer by Microsoft's former CEO. Ah, how times change. Now that same former CEO is claiming that he loves Linux. Needless to say, a lot has changed in terms of how Microsoft views Linux. Remarkably.
Depending on who you ask, this is a good thing or a not-so-great thing. So what does Microsoft's adoption means for the greater Linux community?
Microsoft accepts open source
It's difficult to determine the exact date, however some time in the last five years Microsoft started expanding their enterprise offerings with open source in mind. To do this, they had to begin embracing elements of the open source ecosystem. Microsoft realized that if their customers wanted open source tools and support for said tools with Microsoft products, and Redmond realized they would have to make sure they were in a position to offer the needed support.
Significantly, open source is part of Microsoft’s Azure cloud offering – the success of which is critical to the Microsoft’s continued success.
Meanwhile back in the Linux community, Linux users found themselves in shock over the news that the same company once ran by a CEO who referred to Linux as a cancer is now a very serious member of the Linux Foundation. Yes, Microsoft is feature prominently on the Linux Foundation’s corporate members page. This move to join the Foundation sent shockwaves throughout the Linux world and garnered both positive and negative feedback.
Microsoft: friend or foe to Linux
When Microsoft began promoting themselves as the company that "Loves Linux," some Linux community members were skeptical. Some even believed that Microsoft's move to embrace Linux was based on the once tried and true “embrace, extend, extinguish” approach to technology we've seen in the past. And this concern is based on a hisory of the past use of this strategy.
While it's a valid to worry about Microsoft's motivation behind their self-claimed embrace of Linux, I think Microsoft's motivation is more selfish than a desire to extinguish Linux would suggest. Based on their activity with cloud computing and more recently, the Internet of Things (IoT), I believe Microsoft is looking to utilize technology that has proven itself in those fields - Linux is that technology.
Linux is a means to an end for Microsoft. It allows the software giant to participate with greater efficiency by utilizing existing toolsets. The official reasoning that Microsoft offers is Linux and open source in general provides a great ecosystem. An ecosystem Microsoft is now (apparently) motivated to give back code to. My own concern, however, is how much of this code being given back upstream is good for the community.
The concern that I have is I believe the code being sent upstream must always benefit Microsoft directly or indirectly in some way. I haven't seen any examples of Microsoft providing code that benefits projects that are unrelated to their own efforts. Perhaps I missed something along the way, but due to their anti-FoSS history, it's unreasonable to expect Microsoft to give back to projects that might not benefit them directly or indirectly. And yes, Microsoft's sponsorship of various Linux conventions is an example of indirect benefit to Microsoft.
Yes, Microsoft is a major open source code contributor
Whether or not we're comfortable with it, Microsoft is currently the single largest contributor to open source. As I’ve noted, the company is a memberof the Linux Foundation. While neither of these things excite me personally, it's still important to understand just how much influence Microsoft has over the enterprise elements within the Linux community.
In years past Microsoft's influence with Linux was always at arm’s length. One example Is Microsoft's deal with Novell agreeing not to sue Novell over Intellectual Property claims. Without question, it was a very divisive issue for the Linux community, as it lent credibility to Microsoft's claims.
Microsoft in 2018 may be embracing Linux, but Microsoft is still willing to participate in intellectual property lawsuits if Microsoft feels it will benefit them.
Now let's reflect upon Microsoft's involvement with the Linux Foundation and the quantity of code they contribute to open source. Understanding the facts above suddenly paint Microsoft's involvement with Linux in a less than flattering light.
Microsoft Linux - Azure Sphere
A few years ago if you told me that Microsoft was going to be releasing their own spin on Linux, I'd figure you're gravely misinformed. Yet as we fly through 2018, Microsoft does indeed have their own Linux product called Azure Sphere. The concept behind Azure Sphere is a microcontroller design, Azure Sphere OS and Azure Sphere cloud security.
What's most telling is the rationale behind the move to utilize Linux for this product vs a slimmed down version of Windows - OS size. Linux was the best match for Microsoft's needs in this regard. Not because Microsoft suddenly loves open source or Linux. Rather Microsoft sees Linux and other open source tools as capable solutions to Microsoft problems.
So while it's fun to say "Linux has won,” the fact is Linux is merely a tool being used by a company looking to keep themselves relevant. This means embracing IoT technology and pushing cloud services further than in years past. Should this be considered a success for Linux and the Linux community? No, it's a success for Microsoft - not the Linux community. I don't have a problem with Microsoft utilizing Linux. I have an issue with the fact that Microsoft's view on IP rights hasn't changed at all, despite the claims of "loving Linux."
Microsoft loves enterprise Linux - not the Linux community
The recent news of Red Hat working with Microsoft has some people raising their eyebrows in concern. In truth, however, this is basically Red Hat and Microsoft working together to meet mutual goals. In short, this offers absolutely nothing positive or negative to the Linux community. It's simply a partnership.
This is important because it's something to consider when we look at Microsoft Linux adoption. It's further proof that Microsoft's recent embracing of Linux is merely a by product of larger Microsoft enterprise goals. Sorry, no tin foil hat conspiracies here. Microsoft is simply doing what publicly traded companies are designed to do - earn more money for their shareholders.
Is this bad for the Linux community? Not necessarily. Then again, neither is Microsoft entering into partnerships necessarily negative. It's simply something that Microsoft feels is of benefit to them.
Should the Linux community be concerned? Not at all. But understand that the Linux Foundation, Linux businesses and similar represent their own interests first. Companies like Red Hat have done awesome things for the Linux community, but they will always put the enterprise need first because that's what they're supposed to do as a business.
What say you? Completely disagree or perhaps, have additional thoughts? Hit the Comments, I'd like to heard your thoughts on the matter.