Microsoft and Openness: Rhetoric or Reality?

As I prepared for this year’s Microsoft TechEd event in Bangalore, I read new CEO Satya Nadella’s comment that “Microsoft Loves Linux” with curiosity and skepticism. It’s not the first time Microsoft has professed interest in open source, but we’ve never heard this kind of statement from BillG or Steve B. I was curious to see whether this love was real - and whether Satya was able to convince die-hard Microsoft folks to change their heart and their views on open source technologies.

What I saw on the ground were several noticeable changes in the TechEd agenda from prior years, including many more sessions on working with or integrating open source technologies. This was particularly evident in sessions on Azure and Mobility:

  • Jason Zander’s opening keynote made several open source references – including surprising facts like 20 percent of VMs on Azure run Linux.
  • Mobility presenters from Microsoft and third parties openly talked about how Microsoft technologies can be leveraged on different mobile ecosystems such as Android and iOS.
  • Azure presenters talked about support for Linux containers as well as DevOps technologies like Chef and Puppet and container technologies such as Docker.
  • Azure sessions also addressed how HDInsight (a specialized Hadoop distribution for Azure) can be leveraged for big data workloads.
  • The Azure track included several dedicated open source sessions including: “Architecting Open Source Solutions on Azure”; “Open Web Technologies and SharePoint – An ‘Arranged Marriage’”; and “First-Class Open Source Integration for Azure Applications.”

Beyond the sessions, my interactions with many Microsoft folks and Microsoft-oriented technology architects from other firms confirmed that Microsoft’s openness to open source is more real than ever. All of them say they are working on more and more open source technology integration and interoperability needs. Gone are the days when TechEd sessions focused exclusively on Microsoft technologies with only some lip service about open source.

My TechEd impressions were further confirmed by Microsoft product news over the last few days. First, Microsoft announced few Office apps for iPad and iPhone that are available without Office 365 subscription, with Android apps coming soon. These apps are already moving to the top of iStore charts, which can lead to more revenues from users wanting high-end features on desktops and other devices. Microsoft then announced that. NET framework will run as an open source project, and that .NET will be expanded to run on Mac and Linux OS. This is a momentous occasion for developers who have been working on the Microsoft platform.

Based on all this new evidence, it is heartening to see Microsoft acknowledge a changing technology landscape and commit to evolving its enterprise and consumer footprint. It points to a Microsoft that is comfortable with its role in the world – and willing to play a longer-term game than the Microsoft that viewed the world strictly through the prism of Office and Windows. Opening up to open source will make Microsoft’s technologies even more relevant to consumers and enterprises in the changing world ahead.


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