December 14th, 2015

Linux Foundation’s Deal With the Devil

Last week when Microsoft and the Linux Foundation separately announced a partnership that would see Redmond issuing a Linux certification called Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate Linux (MCSA), Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols felt the need to add the words “not a typo” to the headline of his coverage on ZDNet. A couple of days later, when the story made the pages of The Register the headline included, “Do not adjust your set. This is not an error.”

Linux Foundation LogoWe were just as surprised here at FOSS Force, and Larry Cafiero pulled no punches when breaking the story in Friday’s Week in Review. “There’s the argument that because Microsoft ‘loves’ Linux…we should be more inclusive,” he wrote, “but this is the company that considered Linux a cancer and has fought FOSS for decades. Rather than throw the Microsoft that is treading water a life preserver, I still think throwing it an anchor would be more fitting.”

So what spin did the Linux Foundation, the keeper of the Linux keys, use for its headline when announcing the pact? “A Great Start to a Great Partnership.”

The announcement was written by no less than Jim Zemlin, the foundation’s executive director. “Microsoft is demonstrating a sincere, smart and practical approach to how it builds new technologies and supports its vast customer base,” he wrote. “Microsoft open sourced .NET; it open sourced key parts of its web browser; and it uses Linux for its Azure Cloud Switch. The Linux Foundation and Microsoft share a common, strategic approach to technology development: balance internal R&D with external R&D to create the most important technologies of our time.”

For those who missed last week’s story, to receive Microsoft’s Linux on Azure certification, applicants will be required to pass both Microsoft’s own “Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions” exam (officially Microsoft Exam 70-533) and the Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCS) exam. The certs are being issued by Microsoft and became available on the day the announcement was made.

As expected, Redmond kept to the “we love Linux” mantra it’s been chanting since Satya Nadella began sitting in the chair Ballmer had been keeping warm: “‘The Linux Foundation is the leading organization representing stakeholder interests in the open source ecosystem. That, combined with its proven commitment to professional, distribution-flexible and performance-based certifications, makes it a natural choice for our partner for Linux on Azure certifications,’ said Steven Guggenheimer, chief evangelist at Microsoft.”

What was unexpected was the Microsoft love that the foundation returned.

“Microsoft, many times over, is demonstrating a strategic approach to open source in order to serve its customers and work well with the global community,” Zemlin said. “This is just the beginning of what we expect to be a long and successful partnership.”

Although I didn’t see this coming, I should have after the November 4 announcement that Red Hat was joining hands with Microsoft Azure in a deal that sent Red Hat employees to work at the Redmond campus, and which would result in RHEL being named by Microsoft as its preferred choice for enterprise Linux. On December 8, the day before Microsoft’s new Linux/Azure certification was made public, Red Hat announced it had added support for Azure to its CloudForms tools.

The bottom line is that Microsoft “loves” all things Linux because with the advent of the cloud, on which the company is betting its future, it can sell it. More specifically, Microsoft absolutely must offer Linux to potential Azure customers if it’s to have a cloud business at all, as offering Windows without Linux would be pretty much worthless. Mark Russinovich, Microsoft Azure’s CTO, said as much during a keynote address at the All Things Open conference in October.

“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.”

This latest partnership between Microsoft and the Linux Foundation only goes to illustrate something we already know: For all practical purposes, the Linux kernel is a wholly owned subsidiary of big business — and it’s being developed without a care for the wants and needs of desktop GNU/Linux users or free tech advocates.

Modern Linux is built by big business for big business, with 80 percent of the heavy lifting coming from corporate programmers, which was pointed out recently in a ZDNet article by Vaughan-Nichols. Intel, Red Hat, Linaro, Samsung, IBM and SUSE supply the manpower and decide the direction development should take, and as much as we “everyday Linux users” would like to think it ours, it’s not. We’re just the poor cousins who get to use it because of the GPL.

If the suits who sit in the boardrooms of corporate tech think they need Microsoft — quite frankly, at this stage of the game they do — then the Linux Foundation will continue to put lipstick on a pig and declare there will be peace in our time, even as Microsoft continues practices like extorting money from manufacturers of Linux devices for patents it may or may not have.

Deals like these give Microsoft credibility it doesn’t deserve. Unfortunately, there will certainly be more such deals, and Redmond will be able to pass itself off as an open source company without having to do the hard work necessary for it to become a good open source citizen.

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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

30 comments to Linux Foundation’s Deal With the Devil

  • tracyanne

    I voted “It’s good for corporate users but not good for the home user.”, but that only what I see as the short term. I sincerely doubt Microsoft has changed it’s spots, and this simply means they don’t have to.

    In the long term I think both corporates and home users will lose. I hope I’m wrong, but Microsoft has done nothing recently, outside of their PR, that makes me think differently.

  • Duncan

    The day MS drops all those patent actions against Linux and Linux-running entities and makes a legally binding pledge not to file more, such that it can’t transfer patents to others to do the dirty work for them either, and of course publicly publishing the list of those claimed hundreds of patents it had been throwing at Linux previously, is the day MS’ until-then so-called “love” for Linux might actually be believable.

    Until then it’s simply more maneuvering for better positioning from which to make the same case it was making when it called Linux a cancer.

    Meanwhile, current MS “partners” better beware, lest the same thing happen to them that has happened to many erstwhile MS “partners” over the years…

  • Doctor Thomas Stockmann

    There’s a musical theme for this article. It’s The Mephisto Waltz.

  • If this keeps up, I will be joining Larry by installing BSD.

    Microsoft, an ‘agent’ delegated the responsibility to spy and collect data on users of Windows 10 for the NSA, has left a trail of carnage in their wake with Novell, then Nokia.

    They will do their very best to scuttle any business relationship with the Linux Foundation if they can as open source transparency and strong encryption are the only tools we have to protect our rights and privacy.

    Embrace, Extend, Extinguish

  • Mike

    Microsoft doesn’t “partner” with anyone unless they have a plan to undermine or buy them later.

  • truthtellerjohn

    This is a wacky story. First, what you’re writing about isn’t very new. You’re writing about the Microsoft that prevailed back in Ballmer’s very early days when he and other top execs were talking about open source as “a cancer.”

    Did you do ANY research or do they pay you for clip jobs?

    Also, the clickbaity “deal with the devil” headline is not only inaccurate but it’s juvenile. Seriously, this isn’t journalism. It’s hack-ism. I doubt very much that you did any original research or interviewed anyone. Just went to the Internet and performed a copy and paste routine.

    And not very well.

  • @truthtellerjohn

    awe, what’s the matter? Does the truth sting?

    Too bad for you.

    It was a perfectly appropriate story.

  • Linux running in Microsoft’s virtualization cloud and a cert to go along with it… sounds like more Linux to me. Red Hat has a virtualization platform and it is primarily used to run Windows (for desktops anyway) so go figure.

    I’m not sure how having more people with Linux certs is a bad thing.

  • In 5 to 10 years, when Microsoft has one or more flavors of their own Linux distribution… and it is eating into Red Hat’s profits, we might look back to this moment… but all I can say is, bring it on. At least with the Linux kernel being GPLed whatever Microsoft releases will have to have the source code freely available but maybe not the binaries.

    Does that sound scary? Well, just imagine all of the BSD code Microsoft has already been using for decades but didn’t have to open up and fret no more.

  • Mike

    @Scott Dowdle

    Be careful what you wish for. The GPL (specifically GPL 2 which the Linux kernel is licensed under) will not protect against every form of Microsoft mischief. Specifically it won’t protect against tivoization – whereby open source software’s freedoms are rendered moot by digitally signing said software and locking the hardware to the signature. You may have the source, but you can’t change it as the hardware will refuse to cooperate. With the help of Secure Boot via UEFI, this can easily prevent even an open source implementation from providing any freedom. For a real-life example – look at Google’s Chromecast devices. Open source linux – locked beyond your ability to change.

    The GPL3 addresses this loophole, but it was rejected for licensing the linux kernel because Torvalds sees no problem with tivoization. He feels that it’s the company’s device, so they can do whatever they like with it. The problem with that attitude is what happens when the unlocked hardware alternatives dwindle and you are left with machines running FOSS in name only.

    Scary stuff.

  • Chris

    Articles like this are a negative influence on the Linux community. They promote the stereotype that Linux users are paranoid and elitist. It’s important to be concerned about security and individual rights in cyberspace, but when big businesses like Microsoft attempt to embrace FOSS, regardless of their own self-serving reasons, it can only be a step toward a more open technological environment.

    “As much as we everyday Linux users would like to think Linux is ours, it’s not. We’re just the poor cousins who get to use it because of the GPL.” This entitled attitude is the REAL CANCER. Open Source means you have the opportunity to make Linux whatever you want it to be. It does not entitle you to your own personal corporate staff to design the OS to your specifications.

    As much as the author would prefer not to hear it, Linux belongs to Microsoft as much as it belongs to anyone else, and I’m glad they’re working toward a partnership. Maybe one day, I won’t need WINE anymore.

  • mike

    @Chris

    > “when big businesses like Microsoft attempt to embrace FOSS, regardless of their own self-serving reasons, it can only be a step toward a more open technological environment.”

    In a perfect world, maybe.

    There are lots of ways to pervert and weaken the freedoms of FOSS. Microsoft repeatedly proves it can not be trusted…even today. This is not paranoid rambling or outdated fanboyism. Trust Microsoft at your peril.

    When they start releasing stuff under the GPL3 or Affero licenses and promise patent protection for end users, they might have a leg to stand on. Until then, it’s just a bunch of hot air and marketing (oops, that was redundant).

  • Microsoft has said it themselves.

    “Embrace, extend and extinguish”

    Those who willfully forget or ignore this do a great disservice to the Linux community.

  • @JAWatson re:
    > “As much as we everyday Linux users would like to think Linux is ours, it’s not. We’re just the poor cousins who get to use it because of the GPL.” This entitled attitude is the REAL CANCER. Open Source means you have the opportunity to make Linux whatever you want it to be. It does not entitle you to your own personal corporate staff to design the OS to your specifications.

    As much as the author would prefer not to hear it, Linux belongs to Microsoft as much as it belongs to anyone else, and I’m glad they’re working toward a partnership. Maybe one day, I won’t need WINE anymore.”

    ———————————–

    I call BS. Microsoft has a long-standing reputation and came close to being charged under the RICO act for abuse of licensing authority by extortionate means (first locking the target company into a Non-Disclosure Agreement while threatening with legal action, then, after the signing of said NDA is done, revealing ‘trivial’ patent claims (fat16) and even non-applicable claims). The corporations then face a ‘shakedown’ for money to settle patent infringement, but because of the NDA can never reveal the true nature of the claims made by MS. Very sneaky, very misleading, very evil.

    The legal under-handed maneuvers of Microsoft remain legend but not forgotten. The ‘innuendo’ that Linux is patent encumbered by some 230+ MS patents was ‘alleged’ but no details of such were ‘ever’ furnished. It was an attempt to throw off would-be CIOs from even thinking about Linux in the data center.

  • W. Anderson

    If Microsoft is so much in love with Linux as part of their “heterogeneous” Cloud Computing solutions  with Azure, according to Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of Linux Foundation, then Mr. Zemlin can explain why Microsoft has not withdrawn it spurious claim that Linux infringes the company’s software Patents, without ever providing any documented, verifiable proof of such claim.
    Steven V-Nichols should not be parroting Zemlin in all these Microsoft propaganda efforts, particularly since it has been reported by reliable sources that Mr. Zemlin is soon to be an employee of Microsoft, and thus carries no credibility or integrity in the Microsoft loves Linux crass marketing ploy.

    Zemlin even had the gall and temerity a few years ago to insist that the Linux community should respect Microsoft. In most every circumstance of early learning of which I am aware, including my own, those that want respect must earn it. It cannot be demanded by anyone, including the slavish Jim Zemlin.

  • Steve Stites

    Zemlin said. “This is just the beginning of what we expect to be a long and successful partnership.”

    What is the procedure to get Jim Zemlin fired?

    ———————
    Steve Stites

  • Petrus

    There used to be a web site that detailed the dirty tricks that Microsoft has used since its inception to get where it is today. Unhappily, I can’t find it anymore. I presume that MS eventually used its weight to have the site removed. It would be great if that info could somehow be resurrected. Then newer computer users could understand why many of us old-timers wouldn’t trust Microsoft as far as we could toss a caber. And at our age, that’s not very far.

  • Petrus – I’ve often referred people to this: https://web.archive.org/web/20050706063445/http://www.vanwensveen.nl/rants/microsoft/IhateMS.html (now only available on Archive.org – thank goodness for their amazing archiving efforts!)

  • R Clark

    As soon as M$ bases its primary system on Linux (with a Windows like GUI for the Windows people), or it completely puts it Windows platform in the public domain under BSD or the GPL3 license, then I will have to say ‘M$ really embraces Linux’. Until then I am a total skeptic.

  • McSinyx

    Guys, Linux Foundation has already done sth evil: Tizen and Tizen SDK. The SDK is closed-source and a part of Tizen is released under Flora License ‘granting patents to “Tizen Certified Platform” only’. IMO, the Foundation only cares about the development and usage of the Linux kernel (and maybe how to make money out of it), not about the FLOSS things.

  • Cory Hilliard

    Those of us old enough to remember, remember reading the articles and news about the mafia-like tactics that Microsoft used to kill, maim or destroy any opposing force it came against. Dietrich T. Schmitz used a good word when he said, “Carnage”. What’s weird is, I can’t find a single story on any of it when doing Google searches which is crazy, but I remember them.

    Microsoft is still Bill’s company. Nutella is the next Ballmer. They have 30 years of bloody history to undo if they’re going to win people over.

    This is exactly why Richard M. Stallman has a name, why Linus Torvalds has a name. They are building products that are free! I always argue that Linux should just be called Linux, because it’s a forked project from the project that RMS has and should have the freedom to be called whatever it wants to be called, even if it uses GNU software. But this is exactly where RMS shines most… the GPL license. I think the GPL is his best creation. 1000 years from now, I hope that the GPL allows freedom fighters to still fight against the tyranny of money.

  • David

    For the hobbyist I guess it doesn’t matter. Even though that statement bothers me. The reason I started using linux, apache, mysql and perl was because it was free and I could not afford the Microsoft products as a hobbyist. Nor did I like the “exclusive” attitude when trying to crack the glass ceiling.

  • ybnrmalatall

    The only thing I care about is the open sourcing DirextX… I mean since developers are complete asswiped morons these days.

  • You people constantly piss & moan about Microsoft, but how does it improve your lot in life? And more importantly, how does it promote FOSS, the supposed purpose of this web site.

    If you are serious about true open source, then you should give support to OpenBSD; support a hackathon, do something constructive , other than piss & moan.

    It turns out that Microsoft is doing more to implement security mitigations in its code libraries than Linux is; there are many *BSD sources out there discussing this very fact. Microsoft is not the big evil; the big evil is ignorance.

  • @Richard Thorton You’re barking up the wrong tree, my friend.

    FOSS Force is an official sponsor of more than half a dozen major Linux and open source conferences each year. In addition, we are proud to have a close relationship with Reglue, which puts refurbished computers loaded with Linux and a host of educational apps in the hands of both grade schoolers and college students. We also, as public policy, offer free advertising to qualifying nonprofit tech organizations.

    As for BSD… As far as I know, FOSS Force is the only tech news site that has a regular weekly column devoted entirely to covering BSD.

    And when Microsoft makes a deal with the Linux Foundation to offer Linux certification, not only is that important news (it was covered extensively throughout the tech media), it’s also a story deserving of some op/ed attention from FOSS media.

  • W. Anderson

    Richard Thornton is unfortunately very naive and ignorant about software security issues in regard Windows and comparison with Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) Operating Systems (OS) like Linux and BSD UNIX-like.

    Since security and reliability have been major focus in the FOSS arena for many years particularly OPENBSD, TrustedBSD, Redhat Enterprise Linux and Suse Enterprise Linux, amoung others,in business and mission critical operations, the severe gap of robust security between Windows and FOSS become obvious and understandable, if one is educated and experienced in history of these OS, especially fact that modern Windows is basically upgrades of DEC VMS based Windows NT, and combined with reality that Microsoft had zero (o) expertise and/or experience in enterprise type Internet/Networking, and you can see clearly that Windows and Microsoft will always be in catch up and/or sucunding mode of others’ achievements.

    Ubfortunately, as one commenter has stated, most respondents on this and many other tech blogs, are totally ignorant of or too young to know all the deceitful actions and oppressive positions that Microsoft has taken against competitive technologies over the years, especially FOSS OS against which they cannot adequately compete in reliability, scalability/flexibility, robust security and Return on Investment (ROI) when they had erstwhile previously been able to undercut every one else.

  • Mike

    > “It turns out that Microsoft is doing more to implement security mitigations in its code libraries than Linux is”

    I disagree, but even if it were true it helps no one but Microsoft. Microsoft’s code isn’t free and open and Microsoft is just as likely to use security features AGAINST its customers as for them, in the name of protecting DRM and preserving a broken, outdated concept of software as property.

  • Richard Thornton

    “As for BSD… As far as I know, FOSS Force is the only tech news site that has a regular weekly column devoted entirely to covering BSD.”

    That’s true – PCBSD, which is a Linux-like FreeBSD.

    ““It turns out that Microsoft is doing more to implement security mitigations in its code libraries than Linux is”

  • @Richard Actually, our weekly BSD column covers BSD in general and doesn’t focus on a particular BSD OS.

  • W. Anderson

    Christine Hall can obviously deduce that Richard Thornton is ignorant about the FossForce BSD columns, and about the true nature of PC-BSD.
    I would suggest that he, and most of the Microsoft dupes on this and several other forums, like ZDNet and TheRegister stick to those areas whe anf knowledge may not be so apparent.