While the mainstream tech press is ready to embrace “the new Microsoft” as a friend to open source, many who fought in the trenches against the corporate giant will never be able to forgive and forget.
Every time I write an article criticizing the depth of Microsoft’s proclaimed love of Linux, as well as questioning the motive behind it, I receive return criticism, often from places I would’ve, in the past, least expected, such as from within the GNU/Linux community. In places like Slashdot, some open source subreddits, and even occasionally on FOSS Force, there are commenters who accuse me of letting the past blind me to the great work that Microsoft is now doing for Linux and open source.
Let’s forget for a minute that I have plenty of reasons for seeing Redmond as a continuing threat to free tech. Let’s forget the patent issues the company still uses as a threat, as well as the fact that all of its contributions to open source are to support Azure and Windows, the latter of which remains proprietary and definitely not free software. Let’s also forget that this love of Linux was announced when Microsoft began betting on the cloud, where embracing Linux became necessary for survival. Can you imagine a Windows only cloud service? Neither can I.
Even forgetting all this, I still wouldn’t like Microsoft. Why? Because of our history. Like many others, I spent too many years in the trenches as a David fighting a powerful Goliath that used every weapon in its arsenal — FUD, patents, blackmail (legal and otherwise), anti-competitive tactics (also legal and otherwise) and more — with the intent of destroying open source in general and FOSS in particular. From where I sit, Microsoft is now embracing FOSS for the same reason that the world attempts to engage in meaningful dialog with the North Koreans. We couldn’t be defeated. The next move is to befriend us in order to manipulate us to serve the Redmond agenda.
There are too many rivers between us. Even if Microsoft’s leadership were to drop all the actions it continues to use against open source and legitimately attempt to become a better open source citizen than Red Hat, or even the FSF, I wouldn’t be in the crowd embracing and welcoming them to the fold. The most they can ever hope to get from me is a grudging truce.
I also suspect that I am not alone. There are many who were using Linux and FOSS long before I left the world of MS DOS and Windows to embrace free software — people with scars deeper than mine — who will most likely never embrace Microsoft and its ilk, no matter how nice they play, and who are unlikely to ever see the current movement to forgive and forget as good for free tech.
Because of what I see on Reddit and Slashdot, I also suspect this will not be true of the generation that is just now discovering the advantages of Linux and FOSS. Without having experienced firsthand the battles that were fought before they came along, they will ironically see Microsoft as merely being not much different from the other bad players.