Open Source

It's time for Microsoft to open source Windows

Imagine a world in which Windows was open source. Jack Wallen believes it is now time for such a reality.

Image: Jack Wallen

The title says it all. It's a crazy notion...but I'm filled with such shenanigans of late. However, I don't mean this one as a lark. Let me help you follow my train of thought on this.

The platform is dead. I think many of us can all agree upon that sentiment. Or, if you don't believe it is at least become mostly irrelevant. What is relevant now is the service. I believe Microsoft knows this.

Where is this coming from? Simple. When MS recently announced they were releasing a port of MS SQL to Linux, the subtext was clear: Microsoft now understands their bottom line is fed by services and not by platform. At this point big money shrugs off that antiquated notion that we live in a Windows-only world.

The truth of the matter is, we now live in a mobile world and there is no turning back.

And so, at this point in the landscape of technology, it is time for Microsoft to come to grips with the idea that the Windows platform would be better served if it were open sourced. Why? Let's take a look.

Open source is now the one true "precious"

If you take a peek behind the Enterprise curtain, you see a vastly different picture today than you did five or ten years ago. Now, open source rules the kingdom. The day big data accepted open source solutions as their champion completely changed the trajectory of open source software. Of course, that doesn't mean if Microsoft were to open source Windows, that enterprise companies would drop the technology they currently use and migrate to a Windows to serve up their services. Why? Because Windows, as it stands, isn't capable of such a feat.

However, should Microsoft open source it's platform, a number of things could happen:

  • Open source developers could better integrate the platform into large-scale open source projects
  • Open source developers could improve or fork the platform into something pretty remarkable
  • It would open up Microsoft resources to be then focused on delivering the services that actually do make them money
  • It would enable open source developers to improve industry-wide standards for all platforms
  • Development, in general, of all platforms could happen much more rapidly
  • This could force the hand of software companies like Adobe to finally port their products to other platforms

At the 2014 Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), Microsoft acknowledged that Windows only had a 14 percent share across all devices.

Read that one more time.

To make matters worse for Microsoft, consumer licensing revenue has declined by 34 percent. A big portion of this drop was due to plummeting sales of Windows to OEMs. That's a significant hit for the Microsoft bottom line. And with the continued rise in mobility, coupled with Microsoft's inability to gain a foothold in the mobile landscape, this can only be seen as a warning that Windows as a platform is in trouble.

The solution, I believe, is for Microsoft to open source that platform. Allow open source developers to help improve and evolve the Windows operating system and turn the corporate efforts on SaaS, IoT, and leveraging that new world order with enterprise.

The open source point of view

Many open source advocates might shun the idea of Microsoft open sourcing Windows, thinking it could poison the well. But the truth of this sticky matter is simple: With an open source Windows, Linux would find itself the recipient of some serious benefits. First and foremost, having the ability to run Windows-native software, without the help of WINE, would be a massive win for Linux and open source. Second of all (and we're going to think big picture here), imagine if the open source developer world could re-invent the Windows platform in such a way that would make it far more resistant to malware and viruses? That would be yet another big win for open source.

Even with those wins, it would be a challenge for Microsoft to get the open source world to embrace them as a partner. Considering the benefits open source could enjoy, embracing Windows as an open source platform should be a no-brainer.

Is it too late?

Of course, this might well be even more irrelevant than we all think. Why? It's clear that Android and iOS are the undisputed champions. No one...not Windows, not Mac, not Linux stands a chance at taking them down at the moment. If Microsoft wants to remain in the race, long-term, it might want to consider moving all operating system license to some form of the GPL. Even if it does that, there's no guarantee the massive mobile tide can be stemmed to improve the long-term outlook for the Windows platform. But why not take the chance?

What do you think? Is now the time for Microsoft to open source the Windows platform?

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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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