If there was ever a time to make the distinction between OSS and FOSS, it is now. Microsoft may be the largest open source company on the planet, but it will never be a FOSS company.
It was only a couple of years ago that the FOSS world was proclaiming that Microsoft was a dead company walking. The king was dead. Sales of new Windows releases were flat and Android was seriously kicking its butt in the mobile marketplace. FOSSers were sure they wouldn’t have Redmond to kick around for much longer.
Times have changed. Android is still winning on mobile, but other than that, Microsoft is back on track and is maybe more secure than ever. That’s not good for FOSS.
On Thursday there was a report that Microsoft is on a poaching spree to steal all sorts of people with Linux skills from open source companies. The story seems to be little more than a rumor, but it’s being presented as legitimate news by the Register, although their version is short on facts and long on speculation.
According to the Register, Microsoft recruiters are working overtime attempting to entice people with open source skills to work in some sort of “secret open source unit.” The news site admits that it has absolutely no information about this unit, other than it will “apparently [be] selling open-source wares on its Azure cloud,” and presents no evidence other than that gleaned from a single unnamed source.
“One Reg reader working for a well-known Linux distro firm told us he’d been interviewed to fill a role in pre-sales in Redmond’s new open-source practice.
“He said he’d been told by the interviewer that Microsoft is ‘very keen’ to build relationships ‘as a result of a change of attitude towards open source technology,’ the drive for which is coming from chief executive Satya Nadella.”
Hmm, sounds like the same old, same old to me, and doesn’t seem like much on which to base a self-proclaimed “exclusive” story. However, it’s probably more or less true, as Microsoft has been poaching entire Linux distros through “partnerships” with the companies that develop them, to further its aims in the cloud. Sooner or later, it’s going to have to get some people on board who are qualified to manage the assets it’s been collecting.
If I were a cynic, I would add that it would be doing so in preparation for the day when it extinguishes the open source companies it’s been embracing, which very well might be true.
If you read between the lines of the Register’s article and other stories on Redmond’s open source efforts, it’s easy to imagine that Microsoft has turned itself into the new Novell, although I’m certain the folks in Redmond wouldn’t word it that way.
Novell, of course, doesn’t exist anymore, except as a division of Micro Focus, the UK firm that in 2014 gobbled up Attachmate, and with it Novell and the SUSE distro. Back in the ’80s and 90s, however, the company was a big tech player, specializing in networking with it’s operating system Netware. After it lost its near monopoly in networking operating systems, in large part because Microsoft made it relatively easy to network Windows, it tried to save itself by buying Ximian and SUSE as part of an attempt to make itself over as an open source company.
Which is pretty much the same path Microsoft has been taking in the years since Steve Ballmer was replaced by Satya Nadella. Unfortunately, for those of us invested in the notion of free tech, Microsoft is winning where Novell failed. Unlike Novell, it hasn’t bought a Linux distro, preferring the already mentioned “partnerships” route with companies such as Canonical and Red Hat, but it’s making plenty of money selling the use of Linux in the cloud — an avenue that didn’t exist in Novell’s time.
There are, of course, several major differences between the Novell of old and Microsoft at the time it began to reshape itself as an open source company. Novell was pretty much broke, with very little market share left. Microsoft, on the other hand, had somewhere around $100 billion on hand when Nadella took the reins, as well as a formidable market share with Windows, MS Office and other products. In other words, Microsoft is doing what Novell couldn’t do because it came to the the open source table with advantages Novell didn’t have.
I’m afraid that no matter how deeply we bury our heads in the sand to keep from seeing the obvious, Microsoft can already legitimately claim to be the largest open source company on the planet. Long live the king.
There’s no stopping this train. Microsoft’s money — along with help from its enterprise cronies who’ve learned respect for open source but not FOSS — propels it forward.
Never has the line between mere open source and FOSS been as clear as it is today.