Microsoft has finally admitted that it was wrong about open source, with president Brad Smith saying that “Microsoft was on the wrong side of history when open source exploded at the beginning of the century.”
Microsoft’s opposition to open source software, and Linux in particular, was at times rather extreme and unpleasant, with former CEO Steve Ballmer famously stating that Linux was “a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches” in 2001.
Considering the company’s antipathy, which was mainly borne out of its concern that the free and open-source Linux operating system would eat away at Windows’ market share, it’s even more remarkable how recently Microsoft has embraced open source, and is now actually the world’s largest contributor to open-source projects.
The company has now made a number of its tools open source, such as Visual Studio Code, and many of us were on the lookout for flying pigs when it was revealed that Microsoft would actually ship the full Linux kernel in Windows 10 as part of the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) feature. Meanwhile, Linux distros like Ubuntu are available to download from the Microsoft Store within Windows 10.
A change of heart
Microsoft’s change of heart regarding open source and Linux has certainly been pleasing to see, and we always appreciate seeing a company own up to its mistakes and learn from them.
As Smith said in an interview hosted by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), “The good news is that, if life is long enough, you can learn… that you need to change.”
It seems Microsoft has indeed changed, helped somewhat by Ballmer’s departure in 2014, and while the company’s embrace of open source was viewed with a degree of scepticism in some quarters, it seems Microsoft has put its money where its mouth is and been a positive force in the open source community. Long may it continue.