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October 21st, 2015

Pitching Microsoft to a Linux Crowd

On Monday, in Red Hat’s backyard at All Things Open in Raleigh, word was that Microsoft representatives were saying an “important” announcement would be made at Tuesday morning’s keynote address by Mark Russinovich, CTO for Microsoft Azure. I was expecting something earth shattering, like maybe Redmond was going to port Office to Linux, or that Red Hat and MS were going to get together on some major project.

Mark Russinovich

Mark Russinovich , CTO of Microsoft Azure, keynotes at PDC in 2010.

It was nothing like that. But it was pretty big, given Redmond’s history with open source.

Evidently, the news was that the company is looking for more than a few good men and women who know their way around open source software. I use the word “evidently,” because the announcement was made rather subtly and without fanfare near the end of the keynote. It was slipped in as just another note in a talk about how Microsoft is serious about becoming a good open source citizen.

Russinovich made it very clear, without coming right out and saying it, that Microsoft was at All Things Open in large part to find a few knowledgeable open source people to put on the payroll.

The address started out as more of the same: Microsoft explaining how much it’s on the open source bandwagon.

Russinovich did a good job of making Redmond’s case, and to these skeptical eyes of mine — at least as far as Microsoft is concerned — he came across as truthful and honest. Not surprising, as he has a reputation among people who work in enterprise open source of being one of the good guys.

He spent most of his 30 minutes at the podium offering a review of Microsoft’s approach to open source, with some background on the hows and whys that led to the turnabout from “hate” to “love” when it comes to Linux and free software. There was very little new here, but nor were there any attempts to put lipstick on a pig.

It’s no secret that a lot of what prompted Microsoft to change its open source tune had to do with the rising importance of cloud computing, which Russinovich readily admitted by pointing out that even the most dedicated MS shops use Linux and open source, which they’d need to deploy in any cloud solution.

“It’s obvious that if we don’t support Linux and open source in our cloud,” he said, “then we’ll be a Windows only cloud, and that would not be practical.”

He also ran through a long list of products the company has open sourced, most of which have also been ported to Linux — especially important for tools because it allows the use of the same tools across platforms. In addition, he talked in plain single-speak (meaning no discernible doublespeak) on the company’s collaboration efforts with major open source projects that are outside the Microsoft domain, like Docker, detailing the nature and reasons behind the collaborations.

The recruitment pitch came near the end of his talk, when he jokingly invited the audience of mostly developer types to, “Pass your resumes up.”

He talked about the career opportunities within the company for people with open source knowledge and skills, pointing to the fact that the company currently has over 300 open source job listings outside the country, with many more here in the United States. What he didn’t mention, probably because it wasn’t necessary, was that Microsoft had a booth at the conference staffed with people who’d be happy to explain in detail the opportunities available for those who want to join Redmond’s team.

Does this mean that it’s time for the open source community to quit the fight and declare a truce with what has until recently been our biggest enemy? As I said a few weeks back, not yet. Not as long as the company continues to use software patents as a threat against open source projects. However, it might be time to tone down the anti-Microsoft rhetoric a bit and give them a little breathing room. If we give them enough rope, we can see if they hang themselves, or if they use it to strengthen their ties with the open source community.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

Latest posts by Christine Hall (see all)

22 comments to Pitching Microsoft to a Linux Crowd

  • Mike

    > “However, it might be time to tone down the anti-Microsoft rhetoric a bit and give them a little breathing room.”

    Why? Because current market forces have driven them to be desperate enough to play nice in a VERY limited sense with open-source? I don’t think so.

    Microsoft’s behavior is still disgusting in so many ways as to render any dog and pony show they put on to be completely irrelevant.

  • Eddie G.

    Sorry Christine, I’m going to have to side with Mike on this one. How many times have we seen the big “Red-Yellow-Green-Blue” machine approach a company or business with open arms, a box of chocolates, and flowers wearing nothing but a huge smile? Only to hear after a set amount of time that MS has bought the company, has chagned the company, and then ultimately has CLOSED DOWN that division of the company! I think its true that the current drift towards open source by the masses has prompted MS to change their tactics, and if anything NOW is the time to be more cautious and wary of them! (Think the Trojan Horse!) the last thing the open source community needs is a giant corporation integrating itself with various open source companies with the ultimate long term goal of shutting them down! I’ll keep my open sourced PC’s and tablets running on Linux thank you very much!!

  • Is it appropriate for FOSSForce to carry an ad for a conference
    – Ignite Your Business – which says “Come learn why Windows 10
    is the best operating system for business use” ?

    A friend wrote, after reading this article: “Don’t trust
    Microsoft, don’t use them, ever. Microsoft are monopolists.
    They are mean, nasty, liars and cut-throats that should be
    resisted in every way possible. Now is not the time to “ease
    up” on Microsoft. No company or educational institution should
    be dependent on Microsoft. People need to exercise their minds.
    Linux/BSD/FOSS lets you do that — a thinker’s operating system.

    “Don’t be deceived… Big M is still fighting Linux tooth and
    nail. [The biggest way MS is doing this is the UEFI/secure-boot
    BIOS system that Windows 10 requires on all computers, and
    which is designed to prevent the computer from running any
    other operating system than Windows, such as Linux or *BSD.]
    The best way to stop Microsoft’s anti-FOSS activities is just
    don’t give them any money. If you see Microsoft on the device
    or software, don’t buy it.”

    Here’s my compilation of some evil anti-FOSS operations by
    Microsoft (written before UEFI):

    http://cosmicpenguin.com/linux/MICROSOFTS_WAR_AGAINST_LINUX.html

    and here’s another:

    http://www.maxhost.org/other/ms-dirtytricks.txt

  • luvr

    I’m totally with Eddie G. on this: Now is the time to be MORE cautious and wary about them. They ARE trying to become a Trojan Horse.

    And if they want me to hand them a rope, they will have to promise that they will use it to hang themselves–though I’m convinced that that will be yet another promise that they break.

  • I think Microsoft is more motivated by pragmatism than true “love”. That is okay, you can do business with someone under those conditions.

    I would rather have a world where one company dominates one part of the supply chain, than one where a company owns the whole chain.

  • JustNiz

    There’s only one reason they’re doing this: they want something the community already has in order to strengthen their ivory tower further.

    There is no advantage to the community in lowering our defenses and opening our arms to Microsoft’s inevitable dagger in the back.
    If they were even half serious in their make-nice intentions, they’d stop attacking the Linux community with patents at the same time as they are trying to “befriend” us.

  • Mac Taylor

    When MS stops suing makers of Android devices and licenses it like a good community member; stops trying to hijack OpenSSL, and stops attacking GNU/Linux in the courtroom and outside the courtroom, behind closed doors, where it engages in racketeering. MS is well known for disrupting FOSS conferences; they have well written documents towards achieving this end.

  • stites

    I was active on the open source side in the SCO fight. I was effective enough that Microsoft had a surveillance team stalk me for at least 18 months. My attitude toward Microsoft will be colored by that stalking for a long, long time.

    ———————
    Steve Stites

  • JustNiz

    Look at Mark Russinovich’s picture above then ask yourself would I ever buy a used car off this guy?

  • Sum Yung Gai

    I used to respect and trust Mark Russinovich, back when he blew the whistle on “unbreakable” NTFS, the Sony rootkits, and such. I still respect his technical ability, but I don’t trust him anymore as an employee of Microsoft.

    Like others have said, Microsoft cannot be trusted until they stop attacking F/OSS with things like software patents, backroom deals, and such. Stites, above, isn’t the only one to be stalked by Microsoft surveillance teams. During the Lindows trademark lawsuit some years ago, Michael Robertson (founder of Lindows/Linspire) had the same thing happen to him, and he documented it.

    Need I also remind you all of how OOXML got through the ISO standards body, shortly after ODF had made it through? And Microsoft’s wholesale personal attack against Peter Quinn of Massachusetts over ODF/PDF?

    Finally, remember also that Microsoft has attacked schools, repeatedly, with audit threats, especially those who started experimenting with GNU/Linux desktops and OpenOffice/LibreOffice. This, too, is well documented.

    So, no, I don’t trust that veneer that they’re trying to put up now. Given what I’ve seen of their behaviour, I doubt I’ll trust Microsoft until and unless they do like Red hat and GPL their OS software, server application software (e.g. Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint, etc.), and the entire MS Office suite, which probably means never.

    I’ll stick with F/OSS, thank you.

    –SYG

  • RFG

    Give MS breathing room at your own peril. The vast majority of people in that company are the same individuals that made it the despicable organization that it became. The idea is not to work with MS, but to work in order to render it irrelevant. Much progress have been made, but we are not there yet.

  • luiucs

    MS is a Corporation and you anthropomorphise Corporations at your peril. They are soulless, cold, insatiable consumers of all they survey. They are legally mandated to put the financial interests of the company before all else and if that means feigning friendship, so be it. Humans are, after all, gullible and want only for things “to be nice”. It works again and again as any reading of Microsoft’s history will clearly show. This time is no different.
    Alas, this is not the first time Ms Hall has written a pro-Corporate OpEd.

  • Wow, it does me good to see the comments on this article. So good to see people who aren’t so naive as to think that MS has changed its spots. I agree with the tone and sentiment – MS are trying to save their own skin by trying to jump the FOSS bandwagon… There are no doubt a few people who honestly like FOSS within MS, but the corporation isn’t those people, it’s the sales teams around the world who try to create anti-FOSS policy in Chile, and who try to undermine Munich’s decision to abandon MS. I’m sure the UK will be getting backroom threats with their decision to move away from MS Office to FOSS now that they’ve made the major step of adopting actual open standard file formats (not MS’ OOXML). Sure, their attempts to get all buddy-buddy with FOSS are a step in the right direction, but I’ll stay aloof until a) they stop using patents as a weapon, b) they adopt copyleft licenses, c) all their internat’l offices start pulling in the same open direction, and d) they do that consistently for at least 10 years to defuse the ill-will they’ve created in their 20+ years of trying to destroy FOSS by many unethical means.

  • >Alas, this is not the first time Ms Hall has written a
    pro-Corporate OpEd.

    I think Ms Hall is learning on the job! I commend her for
    publishing the lists of attacks by Microsoft, and the other
    very telling testimony by all the commenters. Here’s one
    of the classic Microsoft documents, exposed in a court case,
    which instructs its “evangelists” how to lie and cheat in order
    to insure that MS wins over its competitors, e.g., by rigging
    discussion/decision panels with members that are secretly in
    the pocket of MS:

    http://www.groklaw.net/pdf/Comes-3096.pdf

    As computer professionals, many of us would like to focus our
    attention on the joys of software and fast computers. But
    there is real deadly evil in the world, and the Internet and
    FOSS are humanity’s communication system for exposing it and
    organizing against it. Microsoft has tried to take over that
    communication system for its own greed, making it part of the
    evil.

    Another attack on FOSS is systemd, which has recently been
    adopted by nearly all major Linux distributors, and which
    replaces much of Linux’s tried and true system software. If
    you still think systemd is ok, please read this recent analysis
    of the internals of just its init section. Do you want this
    very complex monstrosity, comprising 36 Megabytes of source
    code, to be controlling your computer?

    http://blog.darknedgy.net/technology/2015/10/11/0/

  • The real question to ask yourselves is, will the addition of a thousand or so real open source people to Microsoft have significant impact on their corporate culture?

    I don’t know. It’s possible that it will. It’s probably more likely that it won’t. If it does, then it’s really unlikely to come quickly.

  • alamanjani

    Kudos to readers commenters here. Not so much for Christine. MS is fighting any way it can…

  • Ildefonso Giron

    I have to thank Mark Bilk for this remainder of how all major distros have been taken, and how little has been done to try and revert this situation, by ditching systemd.
    But now, with MS trying to corrupt even BSD, things seem to be worsening in FOSS world.

  • jelabarre59

    If it came down to having to work for Microsoft or working for IBM, I’d be chosing MS.

  • Mike

    There’s a lot of pro-Microsoft propaganda floating around the net: Like the persistent, but incredibly wrong, idea that Microsoft is a major contributor to the Linux kernel.

    I don’t know why that fantasy keeps circulating, but every once in a while I see it repeated somewhere.

    The truth is Microsoft made a lot of commits in a short span of time when adding Hyper-V drivers to the Linux kernel, enough to cause Microsoft to BRIEFLY pop up on a list of frequent contributors. Not only was the activity brief, but also those those commits were for the purely selfish reason of facilitating Linux guests to run on Azure under Hyper-V.

    Microsoft makes no significant contribution to the Linux kernel (or any at all that I am aware of, currently).

    I wish people wouldn’t keep spreading garbage like that through mindless repetition.

  • Colonel Panik

    Christine Hall, I agree with all the comments above.
    It seems you need to start MSForce and keep the proprietary
    stuff away from FossForce.

  • Mike

    I wouldn’t be so hard on Christine. She’s entitled to an opinion even if it is that Microsoft is worthy of the benefit of the doubt (they are not).

    Who are the jokers that allowed Microsoft into a FOSS event in the first place? Sounds like they need an education.

  • @jelabarre59 – remember, you choose for whom you work. It’s an ethical decision. I’d personally have difficulty working for either MS or IBM. Thankfully, there’re many tens or hundreds of thousands of other interesting employment options available to you, so it’s unlikely to be a decision you have to make. Or you could start your own company.