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Microsoft president admits they were wrong on open source

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During a recent online event the current Microsoft President, Brad Smith, opened up a little bit about open source and their previous failures with it.

Sadly, their history with open source is a rather tumultuous one. Previous Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, famously said years ago how "Linux is a cancer" and no one really forgot. It's interesting now though because of how Microsoft has changed over the years, as they finally warmed up to open source.

In a chat hosted by MIT CSAIL, President Brad Smith mentioned:

Microsoft was on the wrong side of history when open source exploded at the beginning of the century and I can say that about me personally. The good news is that, if life is long enough, you can learn … that you need to change.

They now own GitHub, a website built around code sharing and their own Visual Studio Code editor is also open source under the MIT license. Expanding there, GitHub also recently acquired npm (the company behind Node package manager) too. That's merely scratching the surface, as they're even integrating Linux more and more into Windows itself with their Windows Subsystem for Linux. Heck, they're even going to put their own web browser Edge onto Linux which is now being built with the open source Chromium.

What are your thoughts?

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Narcotix 16 May
Something that seemingly very few people understand, is, that we no longer live in a world where the Desktop or the end-users device is the main battlefield for the it-companies. We are moving to (or already arrived) in a world where it's all about services. So the main OS is no longer the OS running on your PC/Phone/etc, but the cloud. E.G. Google running Stadia on Linux servers with Vulkan doesn't matter at all, since it is still a highly proprietary platform.
VSCode being open source is just a smart business-move, since people are happy about having control while Microsoft can provide proprietary cloud-services in the VSCode marketplace. Don't get me wrong, I do like VSCode, i just think that people being happy about Microsoft open-sourcing stuff and bringing Edge and Teams to Linux doesn't mean they care less about money or control of their products.

Linux is the future, and it's great to see so much more embracement of Linux by companies everywhere, but at the same time: the future is not about Linux or any OS at all, but services.

Offtopic: So with cloud-gaming on the rise and being executed on highly proprietary environments that happeen to use Linux, it might become weird when Amazon and Google's services get covered here, but not Project XCloud, since they all just provide access to a proprietary service, the only difference being most of them use Linux in the background while Microsoft does not.

So, if this site wasn't all about Linux gaming but open source gaming in general we might want to get more PlayStation news, right? After all it's just a proprietary OS built around the open source FreeBSD. Pretty much the same case for Stadia, in a sense at least.
Linas 16 May
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TL;DR They only love open-source and Linux because they have to.

I have had a chance to work with Microsofts open-source technologies. And to be fair, some of it is quite nice.

.NET Core is a pretty nice programming platform, like a more lightweight Java. BUT it's only partially compatible with .NET Framework.

PowerShell Core can allow easier interaction with Windows systems. BUT it's only partially compatible with PowerShell which is actually shipped with Windows, and can do only a fraction of what PowerShell on Windows can. It is also really slow. Like bash through a laggy SSH connection slow, but locally.

Microsoft SQL Server is not open-source, but has a Linux version. Even a containerized Docker version. BUT it lacks many advanced features of the Windows version.

Their Linux packaging is also lackluster. Like missing dependencies. Or putting Ubuntu and Debian packages in the same repository and having "ubuntu" and "debian" in the version number, so that when you upgrade, you get Ubuntu version, because it sorts as a higher version alphabetically.

Then there is Visual Studio Code and claiming that Visual Studio now supports Linux, whereas it is a fork of Atom editor with custom plugins, and has absolutely nothing to do with Visual Studio.

So they are going in the right direction, but in a clumsy, backhanded way.

Like for example the proper Windows version of Docker (that runs Windows containers, not Linux) is especially half-assed, and only makes Windows users think that Docker sucks. Whereas it's only Windows version that sucks. Even running Linux containers on Windows works better than Windows containers on Windows.

And I am sure that is why Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) exists. Not because they actually want their users to use Linux, but because they know that they lost to Linux in the server market, and cannot pull off a compelling Windows-proper alternative.

So don't be fooled. They only love open-source and Linux because they have to.

No offense to all the brilliant people at Microsoft who are working on all of this. I am sure a lot of people there are just nerds who think that open-source and Linux are cool, and want nothing to do with all the shenanigans of managers and executives.

I really cannot imagine a developer going like "yeah, let's put all of this telemetry in Windows and collect all this data that is in no way relevant to identifying technical problems in the system." But while management can get their way, there will be shenanigans, there will be lobbying, and there will be shady anti-competitive deals.

(damn, I said Windows a lot)
jens 16 May
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DuncAs with others here, it's going to take a lot more than friendly words for me to trust Microsoft.

JanneBut they are clearly a different company than they were 15-20 years ago. Companies consist of people, and as people change, so can companies.
I'm not sure they change all that much. Despite numerous changes in personnel, and even a short (second) period as a successful PC manufacturer, I don't think IBM ever reconciled itself to the fact that it wasn't going to own the PC market in the way it had with previous generations.

I see Microsoft in the same light. It's a company that was founded on the productization of software, playing its cards close to its chest, jealously guarding its source. It's trying to adapt to open source because it sees the way the wind's blowing. But corporate cultures run deep, and it's always going to be an uncomfortable fit. As others have said, I'll begin to believe it when major Microsoft projects - Office, DirectX, even Windows - go open source. I'm not holding my breath.

Well, I'm pretty certain that these older code bases will never go open source. Actually I don't know of any code base of that scale that is still being maintained to ever being open sourced. Waiting for this to happen is just waiting for your own prophecies to come true, thus to only confirm your own believe that Microsoft is the company from the 1980's.
I think that Mircosoft, like all major players, is a pretty big company with a lot of different departments that have now much more independent control than in the early days. Some of these departments (or better the people working and directing there) understood the value of Open Source and made it part of their "department culture", e.g the VS Code team or the .Net Core team. Other departments, Windows and Office, are still more traditional departments and due to history likely not even in a position to change that rapidly (or don't want to change).

To be honest, what would Microsoft (or e.g. NVidia) gain by just dumping these code bases on github? I guess nothing except bad press due to being an old code bases (even the best code tends to rot over time) and may be issues with embedded third party IP. If these companies do go open source, they usually do it with greenfield projects and of course it has to benefit them (which is fine if it's a win-win in the end ).


Last edited by jens on 16 May 2020 at 4:12 pm UTC
jarfil 16 May
Duncit's going to take a lot more than friendly words for me to trust Microsoft.

The beauty of FOSS, is that you don't need to trust anyone. You can, but you don't need to. So if you don't trust Microsoft, Google, Mozilla or GNU, that's all fine, you can decide to trust anyone else who's vetted their code... or even trust nobody and check the code for yourself. Or trust your distro's repo maintainers to check Microsoft's code, which is probably what most people will do.

Luke_NukemSome of us are tentatively awaiting the "extend" phase.

That's going on right now, basing Edge on Chromium is an "extend". What they can never do is an "extinguish", when they don't own the exclusive copyright rights, and people can just fork and forget (see Oracle with their MySQL, Java, and so on).
Liam Dawe 16 May
NarcotixOfftopic: So with cloud-gaming on the rise and being executed on highly proprietary environments that happeen to use Linux, it might become weird when Amazon and Google's services get covered here, but not Project XCloud, since they all just provide access to a proprietary service, the only difference being most of them use Linux in the background while Microsoft does not.
You're missing the point entirely. Stadia is covered because it's supported on Linux and works on Linux. It's not just about the service behind it that powers it. I can open Chromium, click a button and on my Linux desktop I can play Destiny 2, The Division 2 and the list goes on. If being on Linux, and then playing a game is somehow not gaming on Linux, then the world has gone mad.

Additionally: for the people not liking the service with (valid) complaints, that doesn't matter. It doesn't change that it's an option. The same way people complain about their issues with Steam, GOG, itch and whatever other store or service and so on for various reasons.

As for the others - Project XCloud is not supported on Linux, neither is GeForce Now, hence neither being covered. If either turned around and said "yes, we support Linux now" - then yes we would look to cover some of what they do. That's the entire point of this website.

NarcotixSo, if this site wasn't all about Linux gaming but open source gaming in general we might want to get more PlayStation news, right? After all it's just a proprietary OS built around the open source FreeBSD. Pretty much the same case for Stadia, in a sense at least.
Completely different to PlayStation news too since that's an entirely different hardware device that means nothing to a Linux website. How you can conflate it like that with an entirely different service to try and make such a false point is ridiculous.

As an added point there, we actually did cover PlayStation related news with Chiaki ;) - Here's the kicker though, it's because it's done from the Linux box.

We're not focused on one particular way here. We cover a bit of everything and shall continue to do so.

Tip: if people don't want to see news about game streaming, as just one example while we're on the topic, we have a feature for you to filter it out under "Content preferences" in the User Control Panel.


Last edited by Liam Dawe on 16 May 2020 at 1:39 pm UTC
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NarcotixSomething that seemingly very few people understand, is, that we no longer live in a world where the Desktop or the end-users device is the main battlefield for the it-companies. We are moving to (or already arrived) in a world where it's all about services. So the main OS is no longer the OS running on your PC/Phone/etc, but the cloud. E.G. Google running Stadia on Linux servers with Vulkan doesn't matter at all, since it is still a highly proprietary platform.
VSCode being open source is just a smart business-move, since people are happy about having control while Microsoft can provide proprietary cloud-services in the VSCode marketplace. Don't get me wrong, I do like VSCode, i just think that people being happy about Microsoft open-sourcing stuff and bringing Edge and Teams to Linux doesn't mean they care less about money or control of their products.

Linux is the future, and it's great to see so much more embracement of Linux by companies everywhere, but at the same time: the future is not about Linux or any OS at all, but services.

Offtopic: So with cloud-gaming on the rise and being executed on highly proprietary environments that happeen to use Linux, it might become weird when Amazon and Google's services get covered here, but not Project XCloud, since they all just provide access to a proprietary service, the only difference being most of them use Linux in the background while Microsoft does not.

So, if this site wasn't all about Linux gaming but open source gaming in general we might want to get more PlayStation news, right? After all it's just a proprietary OS built around the open source FreeBSD. Pretty much the same case for Stadia, in a sense at least.

Really, I don't like the Linux kernel just because it's "the Linux kernel", but because free software empowers me to protect my data and my favoured way to do things. It even empowers me to use certain proprietary software (Steam..) in a secure fashion.
So I don't use software and services I cannot protect my interests against, like pre installed Android, Stadia, Edge....
Building trust will be their biggest hurdle. I'm not there, yet. Doubt I will be, any time soon. Blame Ballmer.
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Projectile VomitBuilding trust will be their biggest hurdle. I'm not there, yet. Doubt I will be, any time soon. Blame Ballmer.

"Microsoft loves Linux" sounds as if you're telling the chicken you love eggs..
Narcotix 16 May
Liam Dawe
NarcotixOfftopic: So with cloud-gaming on the rise and being executed on highly proprietary environments that happeen to use Linux, it might become weird when Amazon and Google's services get covered here, but not Project XCloud, since they all just provide access to a proprietary service, the only difference being most of them use Linux in the background while Microsoft does not.
You're missing the point entirely. Stadia is covered because it's supported on Linux and works on Linux. It's not just about the service behind it that powers it. I can open Chromium, click a button and on my Linux desktop I can play Destiny 2, The Division 2 and the list goes on. If being on Linux, and then playing a game is somehow not gaming on Linux, then the world has gone mad.

Okay, very good point, I really didn't take this into consideration, tbh. So yes, pretty blindsided by me.

Liam DaweAdditionally: for the people not liking the service with (valid) complaints, that doesn't matter. It doesn't change that it's an option. The same way people complain about their issues with Steam, GOG, itch and whatever other store or service and so on for various reasons.

As for the others - Project XCloud is not supported on Linux, neither is GeForce Now, hence neither being covered. If either turned around and said "yes, we support Linux now" - then yes we would look to cover some of what they do. That's the entire point of this website.

What makes you think I don't like the service? Me stating that it is highly proprietary? I use Spotify, Google Chrome, Steam and many other proprietary stuff. Actually I am a founder of Google Stadia and like the service quite a lot.

Liam DaweCompletely different to PlayStation news too since that's an entirely different hardware device that means nothing to a Linux website. How you can conflate it like that with an entirely different service to try and make such a false point is ridiculous.

Well, the thing I am trying to point out here, is that it isn't about the hardware or the OS at all, but about the service. And therefore it just doesn't matter whether the open source part is hidden behind a cloud service or on your local machine (PlayStation) since you won't be able to access both of them.
Then again, it's the same as for my first point. You are right, it's about gaming on a local Linux machine, no matter if the game also gets executed locally or not. And in this context my comparison with PlayStation makes no sense whatsoever.


Liam DaweTip: if people don't want to see news about game streaming, as just one example while we're on the topic, we have a feature for you to filter it out under "Content preferences" in the User Control Panel.

Thanks for the tip, but I will continue to consume your news on this topic :)
I don't trust Microsoft. Their response to open source has been a typical "embrace and extend" strategy. They're not trying to coexist with open source, they're trying to control it.
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