According to various sources, Linus Torvalds once said: “If Microsoft ever does applications for Linux it means I’ve won.” Well if this quote is in fact valid, then Linus has indeed won. In this article, we’ll examine whether or not the war was won or if this is merely a battle to prolong Microsoft’s reign in the software universe.
Developers, IT jobs and a fluid marketplace
Developers. Developers. Developers. Despite all the things Microsoft got wrong during the Ballmer years, the concept of catering to developers was one thing the company did understand. The official line is that Microsoft wants to make their developer tools more widely available to developers, regardless of their preferred platform. A noble concept on the surface, but I believe there is more to this story than mere availability.
Allow me to paint you a picture. Imagine I’m a wagon wheel builder. Not simply a builder, but the best in the world. In fact, I’m so good that I managed to corner the market worldwide. Then over the next few years, the demand for my wagon wheels slows down as more folks begin riding in cars and motor-scooters. In essence, I believe this is “part” of Microsoft’s issue. They spent so long becoming masters of one space that they lost ground in two other areas.
Cloud services and mobile are two areas Microsoft is playing catch-up in. First example: when you visit any list of job ads looking for jobs in IT, most of them are with Linux technologies – not Microsoft. To further complicate matters, in November 2014, the house of cards known as Microsoft’s “guaranteed uptime” came crashing down around them. To be fair, this also happens to AWS (Amazon). So Microsoft isn’t alone in this.
Second example: Windows Mobile has been, in my humble opinion, the biggest flop in recent technology since Clippy was first introduced for Microsoft Office. It offered its users nothing that they couldn’t get elsewhere. To this day, I have no clue how they thought it would offer anyone any value whatsoever. This wasn’t a reflection of the efforts from the developers. This was a basic leadership issue bundled with a complete lack of direction. It seems Microsoft missed out on the idea that mobile users are already locked into existing ecosystems with their mobile software. So unless Microsoft offers something jaw-droppingly amazing, there was zero incentive to migrate to their mobile OS.
The above two examples alone would have bankrupted lesser companies. And this isn’t even including Bing, which to this day wants folks to use its search engine in exchange for “rewards.” Then came the Nokia acquisition, then the layoffs….most of whom worked for Nokia. The list of foolish mistakes just kept mounting. It was obvious that Microsoft was in trouble. They weren’t going out of business, but the soul of the company was challenged.
Microsoft’s inability to adapt with the times has hurt its reputation badly. Not badly enough to unhinge companies married to their IP (intellectual property) mind you. But their reputation took a big enough beating that they’ve begun to do the unthinkable – they welcomed Linux.
The New “Open” Microsoft
Linux is a threat to Microsoft, so rather than trying to destroy it, they’re embracing it….after a fashion.
Today Microsoft not only supports Linux with their Azure technology, but they’re also releasing a new software product for the Linux desktop (among other platforms). The software is Visual Studio Code. By itself this might not seem like a huge deal. But during the Ballmer era, a software release from Microsoft would never have been made available to Linux users.
Back in 2014, there was an unsubstantiated claim that Microsoft Linux was on its way to Linux. I believe that this is likely, however it will be licensed to select distros. My guess as to the first distro to offer such a thing would be SUSE since they’re already in an existing partnership with the Redmond giant.
All of this may sound fantastic on the surface, yet when you stop to think about what motivates a publicly traded company, common sense abruptly rears its head. Microsoft needs to make sure they’re not only cash positive but that their shareholders are happy as well. This means growth must be ongoing. Anything that can be done to ensure growth must be examined. It’s this need to expand that is driving the seemingly warm embrace of Linux from Microsoft, not some massive change of heart. All we’re seeing here with Visual Studio Code is acceptance that Linux is no longer just a server-based OS.
Hopefully it also puts that dated, unsubstantiated Linux market share number that is horribly inaccurate to rest. In truth, Ubuntu alone has been installed on millions of desktops. However, because desktop Linux lacks the requirement of a license key and is completely free, getting an accurate number is extremely difficult.
If end users and developers are benefiting from Microsoft’s recent efforts within the Linux space, then I think that’s just fine. I say this fully understanding that this was a business decision for Microsoft to remain as relevant as possible, going forward. But the idea that Linux users have somehow won anything is naive.
Like many businesses, Microsoft would be thrilled to do whatever they can to snuff out the competition. It’s not personal, it’s just how publicly traded corporations end up doing things to keep their growth numbers looking good. Their end game with introducing Visual Studio Code into the Linux space was designed merely as a practical move. They will fight hard for as long as possible to keep the Windows desktop relevant. And if that means offering developer tools in a cross platform capacity so Windows (and other platform) applications can be built using Linux, so be it.
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