Opinion At first, Microsoft was the evil empire.
In 2001, Steve Ballmer, CEO at the time, declared: “Linux is a cancer”. Later, Microsoft sponsored SCO’s copyright attack on Linux; claims that Linux violated unnamed Microsoft patents; and strength Linux-based Android vendors have to pay for dubious patent claims. Ballmer’s Bill Gates and Microsoft wanted to see Linux and open source software (OSS) dead and buried.
Well, they were right!
They also realized that open source was better than any number of developers they could support in Redmond, Washington. “The ability of the OSS process to collect and harness the collective IQ of thousands of individuals on the Internet is nothing short of amazing. More importantly, OSS evangelism is growing with the size of the Internet much faster than our own evangelistic efforts don’t seem to do that.”
Microsoft’s response? “OSS projects have been able to gain a foothold in many server applications due to the great utility of simple and highly standardized protocols. By extending these protocols and developing new protocols, we can prevent OSS projects from entering the market .”
For Microsoft, it was a proven method of crushing its enemies. You know this best from the phrase Paul Maritz, then Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of Platforms Strategy and Developer Group, used in 1998 to describe the answer to Netscape as “embrace, extend, extinguish”.
But be careful, guys. The most recent of these stories is ten years old. Maritz left in 2000. Gates quit day-to-day work at Microsoft in 2008. In 2021, the billionaire was kicked off Microsoft’s board of directors for having an affair with an employee. Ballmer? He quit as CEO of Microsoft and resigned from the board in 2014. That’s ancient history. And so are their anti-Linux and OSS methods.
Embrace, Extend, Extinguish also failed against the open source method, and – that’s the important bit – Microsoft knows it.
So when Satya Nadella took over as Microsoft’s new CEO and said, “Microsoft loves Linux,” it wasn’t just lip service. He knew that to make money, Microsoft really needed to embrace, not extinguish, open source.
Nadella told Wired at the time that he wasn’t interested in fighting old battles. Linux has become an essential part of today’s enterprise technology. “If you don’t jump on the new”, he said“you don’t survive.”
As TechCrunch reporter Ron Miller Put the“Microsoft went from being a company trying to force customers to buy an all-Microsoft, all-the-time approach, to one that recognized the importance of working across multiple platforms and broadly partnering .”
That meant befriending one-time enemies like Salesforce, and not just loving Linux, but incorporating Linux into its products – Linux is Azure’s best guest OS – and hiring Linux and open-source developers from prominent such as systemd architect Lennart Poettering and Python Creator Guido Van Rossum.
Today you think Microsoft is big business, second only to FAANG companies on the stock market. What you don’t remember is that when Ballmer resigned in 2014, Microsoft shares had fallen more than 40%. When Ballmer announced his departure, Microsoft stock price was $34.47. On July 8, 2022, it was $267.66.
Get the picture? Microsoft has become more valuable than ever because it finally realized that joining Linux and open source was better than fighting it. If you still think Microsoft is the enemy, think again.
Of course, Microsoft isn’t perfect. For example, there are serious legal and ethical questions about how its subsidiary GitHub uses open source code in its Copilot AI-based pair programming service, and it has made some missteps like with .NET Foundation at the end of last year.
However, you can criticize any large company using Linux or open source software.
All things considered, it’s high time to stop being so hard on Redmond. Stop judging Microsoft on what it did ten years ago and judge it on what it is doing today. ®