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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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Rooster May 16, 2020
For me, actions speak louder than words. If they actually open source some of their most used applications, then I might raise an eyebrow, otherwise I'm past the point of caring.

Last edited by Rooster on 16 May 2020 at 10:06 am UTC
Valck May 16, 2020
All I can see here is that the embrace phase is coming to an end, if it hasn't already.
psy-q May 16, 2020
Ummm. Better late than never, I guess? I doubt we'll get any recompense for the last 30 years of trauma.

MS is going firmly into the services business where they create an even more absolute vendor lock-in than what they had with on-prem. And it only makes economic sense that they're happy to make money off of renting out Linux-based services. Google and Amazon do the same, but with a lot fewer "we love FOSS" noises coming out of them.

That said, I do like VS Code, of all the Electron-based abominations it's easily the best one. Some crazily useful features in there like remote editing and debugging. So thanks for that.

Last edited by psy-q on 16 May 2020 at 10:20 am UTC
Luke_Nukem May 16, 2020
Some of us are tentatively awaiting the "extend" phase. I don't think it will happen, but there's that edge on most of us Linux folks who lived through the Gates, Ballmer, and SCO days - Microsoft was a company with very ruthless and shitty ethical standards when it came to the OS and who ruled the roost (see OS/2).

In all seriousness, do forgive those of us who are still skeptical of Microsoft - there are most certainly good reasons for it.

I used both OS/2 Warp and BeOS back in the day, alongside Linux (Gnome). Both of these OS blew Windows out of the water. In particular OS/2 vs Windows 3.1 was night and day - I'm still pretty fucking grumpy about the damage Microsoft caused to the world... what could have been.

Last edited by Luke_Nukem on 16 May 2020 at 10:38 am UTC
dpanter May 16, 2020
Never trust Microsoft. Ever.

Enough said.
Janne May 16, 2020
I lived through the 90's and the attacks against open source by Microsoft. I have no reason to like or trust them.

But they are clearly a different company than they were 15-20 years ago. Companies consist of people, and as people change, so can companies. As a comment said above, actions speak louder than words, and Microsofts actions have definitely changed radically for the better during this past generation.

I do not fully trust any company, and I trust large companies less than small ones - they have more power to wield - but today I don't see a reason to trust Microsoft any less than, say, Google or IBM, and I certainly trust them more than the likes of Amazon or Oracle.
rustybroomhandle May 16, 2020
Going to stick to my prediction that one day after Microsoft have converted all their software to cloud-based services, they'll be shipping their own minimal Linux distro on some low-powered device.
Dunc May 16, 2020
As with others here, it's going to take a lot more than friendly words for me to trust Microsoft.

Quoting: 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.
Nevertheless May 16, 2020
They made their OS a data collector for their AIs. They even bought illegally obtained data from Avast anti virus software. They showed their intentions pretty open. I'm nearly 100% sure they use Edge to collect data from more sources.
What? Yes, Google is just the same... and Facebook, and ...

Last edited by Nevertheless on 16 May 2020 at 12:45 pm UTC
Narcotix May 16, 2020
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.
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