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Microsoft’s Becoming the New, but Successful, Novell

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.

Microsoft German camputTimes 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.


  1. Mike Mike April 22, 2016

    > “Microsoft can already legitimately claim to be the largest open source company on the planet”

    No, they cannot.

    Why give them such undeserved credit? If all it takes to “be an open source company” is to release a few dribbles of open source code, then by that reckoning Apple is also an open source company worth more money than Microsoft, with roughly the same number of employees and a much higher stock value.

    Neither Apple nor Microsoft are an open source company until they give up proprietary software…period. Until then all they are are proprietary software companies.

    This is worse than that crap that was going around briefly where people were claimang Microsoft was one of the largest contributors to the Linux kernel. They never were. They VERY BRIEFLY showed up on a list of large contributors when they were adding hyper-v drivers to the kernel…a purely self-serving effort.

    It doesn’t do the FOSS world any good to give credit to parasites.

  2. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | April 22, 2016

    @Mike I think you’re missing my whole point.

  3. Eddie G. Eddie G. April 22, 2016

    I’m going to have to agree with Mike Christine. While they might hold a large portion of the worlds markets regarding software and the like, Microsoft is NOT an Open Source company,..they’re a company that uses bits of open source in order to get their proprietary software to play nice with others. Some people applaud the moves MS have been making, I don’t. I don’t trust them, (and believe me I’m keeping a CLOSE eye on Canonical AND Red Hat!…since they’re BOTH “in bed” with MS.) I may use Fedora now, but I can easily switch to something not on the “.deb” / “.rpm” list.

    And I know there are those who will say I should be more “open”-minded because we’re the “open” source community…but there’s just something that lurks under the surface of MS’s “intentions” that I find disturbing. I don’t care whether their claims to love Linux are true or not. I prefer they keep to their side of the Walled Garden. Why? Because of all the years I used their rotten OS and got infected time and time again, even though I have multiple virus-scanners, and security suites. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting DIFFERENT results? that’s the definition of Insanity. Look it up. True story. So I’ll remain the untrusting, grumpy, grouchy, and completely “free” old man who won’t touch MS offerings with a wireless mouse! As for no stopping this train? Because Linux has made it to places where MS will NEVER go. And that one thought lets me sleep at night. Mind you, I don’t HATE MS, I hate what they do, what they continue to do, even with Windows 7 / 8 / 10. Foisting their wares on an unsuspecting public who merrily click on anything shiny and sparkly. Yeah, no thanks…

  4. Mike Mike April 23, 2016


    No, I get the point and it is an important one – that FOSS is more than just open source. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who use FOSS that really don’t understand or care about the freedom FOSS gives them.

    But that aside, you are giving Microsoft waaaay too much credit. If all it takes to be considered an open source company is to release a piece or two of open source code, then practically all software companies are opne source companies. Good god, even Oracle would be one by that definition and no one believes that.

    No, they are proprietary software companies riding the coattails of open source and FOSS because FOSS is now the defacto “irresistable force” of software development.

  5. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | April 23, 2016

    @Mike Personally, I agree with your point. I’m not sure the enterprise does, however. In the enterprise, any company that heavily creates or contributes to open source projects is an open source company and these days Microsoft does both in a major way, which is why it’s important that we return to making the distinction between OSS and FOSS as we once did. OSS doesn’t require that you be a good guy, it only requires that you stay in compliance with open source licenses. FOSS requires more.

  6. Mike Mike April 23, 2016


    > “Microsoft does both in a major way”

    No, they don’t.

    Microsoft hardly contributes to anything outside their own projects, if they do at all. Those projects they have “open sourced” are under strict control and loaded with conditions. The licenses are always permissive and never GPL, meaning they can close them up again at any time. All contributions are funnelled through contributor license agreements that grant Microsoft IRREVOCABLE access to anything submitted as well as protecting Microsoft from patent claims in submissions to a higher degree than the promises they grant back. The binaries they release are under different and much more restrictive licenses than the “open source” projects themseleves.

    Once you take away the smoke and mirrors, there is not a lot left.

  7. Nick Nick April 23, 2016


    I understand your point about once again championing the differences between OSS and FOSS. The problem is, I never stopped doing that. Nor did those who understood completely the dangers of not doing so. Such as experienced linux users/admins like yourself and organisations like the FSF, EFF etc…

    Those voices, wich number the same or more then they used to, are now reletively less effective due to the massive growth of OSS devs and users who choose short term convenince over understanding (mostly for business reasons) “Just need it to work” mentality.

    Its important to realise though, that the situation now, has grown out of the situation we had back in the day when FOSS proponents were a large and loud part of the community.

    Ask yourself, why, if the warnings about user freedom were a good way of ensuring people use freedom protecting licences, why has the community largely grown away from using them?

    I think its clear enough that I can say without question; If spreading the message wasn’t effective back when FOSS advocates were heard much better, its almost completely pointless to try now!

    In fact, as Eddie G pointed out earlier, it is the definition of instity to keep doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results each time!

    I will continue to try and educate people, but as things stand, we are flogging a dead horse.

    But there is a solution!! I’ll post again soon…

  8. Dave Mawdsley Dave Mawdsley April 23, 2016

    Hi Christine,

    Just a few notes–free to use in any way:

    I’m a patient fellow. I loved it when Windows 95 came out. Then I loved Windows 98 which I found out later needed a reboot once a day. Windows ME was a bust and I only used it on one computer–now upgraded to Windows XP. I didn’t experience Windows 2000 but fell in “love” with Windows XP. Oh joy, what a dependable system. Not so much love, but Windows XP was good.

    Then I came upon Windows Vista. A disappointment–oops!, I think Microsoft sent it out too early. (Too many missing drivers and the tools to fix it were either insufficient or non-existent.) Oh boy, then Windows 7 Home Premium came out. What a joy! It’s finally stable and I hoped that M$ would keep this version forever. Oops! Not so. Now M$ wants me to “upgrade to Windows 10.” If I don’t upgrade, what am I missing? What software will I abandon if I don’t? Will they take my family for ransom if I don’t upgrade? Is my privacy and security totally gone?

    No answers, just marketing in the chase for $$$, hype and the “best secure experience ever.” I don’know. Suppose I stop at Windows 7. Is my computer world going to end? What if I start saying “No” and I keep saying it? Will my pension decrease or disappear? Will my computer be upgraded without my permission? Will my M$ world call it quits with me and will my life then spiral into a black hole with applications and exceptions that I cannot control?

    Oh wait…what’s this Linux distribution called Ubuntu? Am I even supposed to even ask about it? Hey! It just works. No nag screens. Is this really mine to use and to do as I see fit? Wow, I think that my answer is “yes.” Am I freed from the old requirements? It seems so.

    All I have to do is to keep it up-to-date on my time schedule. Wow, what a deal! The software I use is with no contraints that get in the ways I want to use my computer. Impossible! But no hidden deals showed up; my days became creative and useful again. How can this be? How could anyone write computer programs that I’m really free to use in any way I choose? What kind of people would write useful programs that I really want to use? Are they nuts?

    Amazing those hundreds (thousands) of people who made LibreOffice, Kalzium, Stellarium, Avogadro, Frescobaldi, gedit, BASH, Python, Thunderbird to use as I saw fit. How can I ever truly thank them for such critical, amazing programs? (I’ve donated $ to some of them already.) What an amazing world they’ve give me, (us) Why didn’t I find them free to use in the non-FOSS world? So much for $ vs scratching the itch of need by the programmers. Life with computers is really getting better for me with FOSS and I’m hopeful that FOSS continues on an upward trend for everyone. If you’re not using FOSS, your life is still in Oops! mode. Perhaps a personal reboot is in order.

  9. Danny Danny April 24, 2016

    Excellent reply. Exactly my thoughts. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  10. Joel Joel April 25, 2016

    When words and actions disagree, believe the actions.

    Microsoft is not, never has been and never will be a FOSS company

  11. tracyanne tracyanne April 25, 2016


    “Microsoft is not, never has been and never will be a FOSS company”

    I believe Christine said Microsoft is now the biggest OSS company, and she never said they were FOSS. In fact she said

    “Microsoft may be the largest open source company on the planet, but it will never be a FOSS company.”

    Which means, contrary to your belief that you are correcting her, you are, in fact, agreeing with her. OSS and FOSS are not the same thing.

    FOSS my be OSS (it always is) but OSS aint always FOSS.

    Now as to Microsoft being an OSS company, I disagree with her there, Microsoft may well release a lot of Open Source Software, and indeed support a lot of it, they even release some FOSS (GNU GPL) by virtue of the kernel patches they have submitted, but that doesn’t make them an Open Source Company. The Open Source Software is nothing more than loss leader marketing, designed not to provide the world with a better mouse trap or better code, but to drive uptake of their proprietary software, including the Windows OS in Business.

    Open Source Software is tacked on to their overall marketing strategy in order to drive more sales of Proprietary Software, as such Microsoft holds that OSS captive.

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