There is one sentence that I swore I'd never write.
Microsoft loves Linux.
That's right. During a webcast, new CEO Satya Nadella stood next to an image that said "Microsoft [heart symbol] Linux." Understand, the presentation was all about Azure and the new services it has added to the system. Included with those new services were Linux-based systems (such as the Cloudera Hadoop package and the CoreOS Linux distribution) — so, it's not like Microsoft is all of a sudden embracing Linux as a desktop OS.
Yet... sort of.
I believe Microsoft is finally gazing into the same crystal ball as everyone else has been and is seeing that "platform" is on the verge of complete irrelevancy. This isn't 1999, where platform was King, and the King had a name — Windows. This is 2015, and the crow now rests squarely on the network — the cloud. And to make the cloud work, really work, the platform must become transparent. Otherwise, you suffer from lock-in, and that will be your death knell.
Numbers don't lie. The majority of users get their content via mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets. As of a year ago, mobile use has exceeded desktop usage. That means the browsers and devices accessing servers, content, and SaaS are no longer tied to a desktop platform. That also means juggernauts like Microsoft have to completely reinvent the way they think and do business — otherwise, they'll go the way of the desktop.
I'm constantly taken aback when people contact me about my author website and say, "Something's wrong with your page. It doesn't look right!" I open Chrome, and it looks fine. And then ... I remember ... they are most likely viewing the site with their phone.
Rethink. Retool. Refine.
That is why Microsoft has found itself in a position of having to "love Linux." Microsoft needs Linux to achieve transparency for today's market and user base. Without Linux, Microsoft's Azure platform is not nearly as flexible as today's tech landscape requires. Microsoft knows this, and that's why it currently offers five Linux servers on Azure (CentOS, Ubuntu, CoreOS, OpenSuSE, and Oracle Linux). The one major Linux server missing is Red Hat, but I'm certain Microsoft will eventually open its arms and heart to one of the most powerful enterprise Linux distributions on the planet.
But let's face it, the real competition Microsoft faces today is Google and Amazon — cloud services, not platforms (that game is done, over, kaput). And to be competitive in the cloud, Microsoft can't, in any way, go it alone.
How times have changed.
To that end, Microsoft will find itself in a love fest with Linux this year. They will become best of friends, snap selfies together, and post on one another's Facebook wall. Even once Windows 10 is released, this won't change. I firmly believe that Microsoft has finally come to grips with the idea that the desktop is no longer the be-all end-all to their bottom line. Azure brings in roughly $5 billion in annual revenue for Microsoft — all the while sidling up to that which their one-time CEO called "a cancer." Remove Linux from the picture, and that $5 billion in annual revenue shrinks drastically.
Fiction and reality have finally merged. Microsoft and Linux are sharing a spotlight that no one ever thought the penguin could possibly enjoy, all because the platform has become secondary to the new King — software and service.
Do you think this trend will continue? Will Microsoft and Linux remain best friends — or is Microsoft merely biding its time in hopes the platform becomes relevant once again? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.