I don’t know about you, but I like to play ‘word association’ from time-to-time. Let’s have a quick game .
I heard a gasp.
Although some of you will find it hard to believe, Microsoft (once open source’s archnemesis) is now GitHub’s largest open source contributor. Few would have expected this outcome when the open source revolution started over 30 years ago. Yet, the fact is, today open source is truly essential to Microsoft’s market success.
But, how did we get here? And what can the current Microsoft-open source relationship tell us about the tech giant’s future?
GitHub, The State of Octoverse, 2016
With the rise of open source in the early 1990s and 2000s, Microsoft saw it as threatening the proprietary business model on which it was based.
Microsoft and Open Source – The Early Days
Few can forget ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s statement that ‘Linux is a cancer’. He viewed open source as attacking and destroying all software and intellectual property it attached itself to, devaluing and undermining commercial enterprises in the process.
However, it’s clear that initially Ballmer completely missed open source’s potential in regards to commercial software. Rather than seeing open source as a means to improve Microsoft’s offerings, he just saw it as an alternative to commercial software. But then again, everyone makes mistakes.
Can We Be Friends?
With open source’s increased adoption, Ballmer and Microsoft slowly began to see that open source had evolved from simply being an alternative to commercial software, to a precious resource which could be leveraged to elevate their own software and achieve market success.
After all, why should a development team have to re-invent the wheel every time they need code to perform a desired function, if tried and tested open source code is already freely available.
Around 2006 Microsoft, like other software corporations, started to realize the potential of releasing part of their own software as open source projects.
Microsoft and Open Source – Things Are Heating Up
Consequently, with the realization that open source was something to be adopted rather than resisted, it was actually Ballmer who kick-started Microsoft’s open source journey. It was he who started the process of open sourcing .Net, and it was he who ushered in Azure, the cloud platform which is such a central part of Microsoft’s pivot towards open source. However, the real Microsoft-open source love affair was yet to come.
Few can deny that with Satya Nadella becoming CEO in 2014 and shortly after declaring that ‘Microsoft loves Linux’, the Microsoft-open source relationship really began to heat up.
Don’t Microsoft-Open Source make a cute couple
Under his leadership, Microsoft has both open sourced some key projects, while also enabling open source programs to be hosted on it platforms. Just this year, Microsoft open sourced its Power Shell, brought Ubuntu to Windows 10 and even released its own version of FreeBSD for Azure. However, believing ‘love’ was at the center of Microsoft’s change of heart is, of course, naïve. It’s commercial interest.
After all, numbers don’t lie. In 2014, 50% of companies said they use open source in their product, and in 2015 the number grew to 78%. Consequently, as long as open source continues to enjoy its place in the sun (and there’s every reason why it should), we can expect the Microsoft-open source love in to continue.
One day the unthinkable could happen, Microsoft could open source Windows. However, this is not the direction that Microsoft is going in right now. And with the company still making a cool 15m a year from licensing, it’s hard to believe they’ll offer an open source alternative anytime soon.
Regardless of its end game, with its 16,419 GitHub open source contributors, Microsoft has come a long way since its original position regarding open source. Yet, time will tell if the Microsoft-open source love-in will continue once Microsoft has achieved its objective of making its products and platforms the solutions of choice for users out there. Perhaps it will stay open to open source. But then again…