Open Source

Microsoft: No, we don't hate open-source software, and we can prove it

While in 2001, then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously described Linux as 'a cancer', Microsoft says times have changed.

Microsoft says it is time to let go of the image of the company as an enemy of open-source software.

While in 2001, then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously described Linux as 'a cancer', today Microsoft's corporate VP of comms Frank Shaw says times have changed, listing the various ways that Microsoft has contributed to the open-source community in the intervening years.

"To be honest, I think some of the people who look at the company are still somewhat stuck in the early 2000s, when Microsoft wasn't as open to open source as we are today," he said, speaking ahead of the Microsoft Connect(); 2017 conference, which opened today.

Shaw cited the deep ties that Microsoft has with stewards of the open source community today: with Microsoft being a platinum member of the Linux Foundation, a gold member of the Cloud Foundry Foundation, and a platinum member of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation—which hosts the hugely popular open-source container deployment platform Kubernetes.

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He went on to list how Microsoft had either open-sourced core Microsoft technologies or today makes significant contributions to other open-source projects.

"Since open-sourcing .NET Core in 2014, over 60 percent of contributions come from outside Microsoft, 34 percent of downloads of .NET for developers are new to Microsoft, 40 percent of virtual machines on Azure are Linux and more than 16,000 [Microsoft] employees are contributing to GitHub on a regular basis, making us one of the top GitHub contributors in the world," he said.

Shaw added that Microsoft's open-source editor Visual Studio Code now had 2.6 million active users, who he said were using the editor to build cross-platform apps. Even Microsoft's flagship OS Windows 10 also has built-in support for running command line versions of Linux-based distros as Windows Store apps.

At the Microsoft Connect(); 2017 event, Microsoft also announced it has joined the MariaDB foundation as a platinum member, and will offer MariaDB, the popular open-source MySQL fork, as a managed service on its Azure cloud platform.

Even Ballmer has softened his stance towards open-source, revealing in a recent interview that he no longer considers Linux to be a "malignant cancer".

However, while Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, the company behind the open-source OS Ubuntu, recently told TechRepublic, "Microsoft is a different company now, with a much more balanced view of open and competitive platforms", the company is still viewed with suspicion by some in the free-software community.

Critics argue the actual picture is more nuanced than Microsoft unambiguously embracing free and open-source software, with Microsoft showing more love for using open-source tools internally or for having open-source OSes running on its Azure cloud, than for having free software compete with its products.

This assessment chimes with that of some other commentators, who say the softening in Microsoft's attitude is a pragmatic choice, born out of necessity given the widespread popularity of open-source tools in the cloud, with TechRepublic's Jack Wallen summing up the situation as 'Microsoft needs Linux'.

Image: Jack Wallen

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About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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