Get over it: Microsoft is a Linux and open source company these days

'The Evil Empire' hasn't been evil for about eight years now

Opinion In the beginning, Microsoft was The Evil Empire.

In 2001 then CEO Steve Ballmer declared: "Linux is a cancer." Later, Microsoft sponsored SCO's copyright attack on Linux; claimed that Linux violated unnamed Microsoft patents; and forced Linux-based Android vendors to pay for dubious patent claims. Bill Gates and Ballmer's Microsoft wanted to see Linux and open-source software (OSS) dead and buried.

They did it because, as Microsoft's Halloween documents show, they believed "OSS poses a direct, short-term revenue and platform threat to Microsoft, particularly in server space."

Well, hey, they were right!

They also realized that open source was better than any number of developers they could get to live in Redmond, Washington. "The ability of the OSS process to collect and harness the collective IQ of thousands of individuals across the Internet is simply amazing. More importantly, OSS evangelization scales with the size of the Internet much faster than our own evangelization efforts appear to scale."

Microsoft's answer? "OSS projects have been able to gain a foothold in many server applications because of the wide utility of highly commoditized, simple protocols. By extending these protocols and developing new protocols, we can deny OSS projects entry into the market."

For Microsoft, this was a tried-and-true method of squashing its enemies. You know it best from the phrase Paul Maritz, then Microsoft's executive vice president of the Platforms Strategy and Developer Group, used in 1998 to describe Microsoft's answer to Netscape as "embrace, extend, extinguish."

But pay attention, folks. The most recent of those stories is ten years old. Maritz left in 2000. Gates stopped doing day-to-day work at Microsoft in 2008. In 2021, the billionaire was pushed off Microsoft's board for having an affair with an employee. Ballmer? He quit being Microsoft CEO and resigned from the board in 2014. They're history. And so are their anti-Linux and OSS ways.

Embrace, extend, extinguish also failed against the open source method, and – this is the important bit – Microsoft knows it.

So when Satya Nadella took charge of Microsoft as its new CEO and said: "Microsoft loves Linux," that wasn't just lip service. He knew that to make money, Microsoft had to really embrace, and not extinguish, open source.

Nadella told Wired back in the day that he wasn't interested in fighting old battles. Linux has become a vital part of today's business technology. "If you don't jump on the new," he said, "you don't survive."

As TechCrunch reporter Ron Miller put it: "Microsoft went from a company trying to compel customers to buy an all-Microsoft, all-the-time kind of approach to one that recognized it was important to work across platforms and to partner widely."

That meant making friends with one-time enemies such as Salesforce, and not just loving Linux but incorporating Linux into its products – Linux is the top guest operating system in Azure – and hiring leading Linux and open source developers such as systemd architect Lennart Poettering and Python creator Guido Van Rossum.

Today, you think of Microsoft as a big deal, that it's just behind the FAANG companies on the stock market. What you don't remember is when Ballmer quit in 2014, Microsoft's stock had fallen over 40 percent. When Ballmer announced he was leaving, Microsoft's 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 figured out that it was better to join Linux and open source than to fight it. If you still think Microsoft is the enemy, think again.

Sure, Microsoft isn't perfect. For example, there are serious legal and ethical questions about how its subsidiary GitHub is using open source code in its commercialized Copilot AI-based pair-programming service, and it has made some missteps as with .NET Foundation late last year.

However, you can find fault with any major company using Linux or open source software.

All things considered, it's well past time to stop being so harsh on Redmond. Stop judging Microsoft on what it did a decade ago and judge it by what it's doing today. ®

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