Microsoft Loves Linux. Who Would Have Thought That?
November 17, 2014 Dan Burger
There’s no shortage of open source software in the IBM midrange community. Examples can be found if you are enthusiastic about looking for them. And IBM likes to nuzzle up to open source as much as possible. One reason is because it can differentiate itself from Microsoft and unload the proprietary insults at the campus in Redmond. So even though there is a pretty strong hatred for Microsoft in the IBM i community, the news that Microsoft is embracing open source–on some of its server side components–is interesting in that it indicates the impact open source is having on the IT industry.
Although the two IT giants are choosing to use open source differently, the fact that huge software vendors with deep roots in proprietary systems have been won over to open source is a shared story. Both have used open source to deflect criticism that they are out of touch with the current open source development thinking that has engulfed the overall IT community. The contributions by open source development, although shrugged off by IBM and Microsoft for many years, have not gone unnoticed.
IBM has used open source for its own purposes as opposed to being part of the community and working to improve it and give back to the community. IBM did its own thing with open source, it didn’t put projects out in the community and solicit technical contributions and enhancements. IBM took what it saw as good and shaped its own products from the work that had been done in open source.
Microsoft appears to be more community minded, but we’ll have to see how this works out for them before presenting any civic duty awards. That’s not to say Microsoft is still wet behind the ears when it comes to open source.
Roger Pence, product evangelist at ASNA, a 25-plus year member of the IBM i ISV community, keeps a close eye on Microsoft, .NET, and a variety of development environments. ASNA has always been Microsoft-centric with its tools and its Windows Web server that sits alongside the IBM i to create the ASNA application development environment, which is sort of a green-screen freedom movement. (The IBM I ISV community has numerous participants in the GSF movement.)
It led to many other open source components before last week’s announcement that Microsoft was open-sourcing the full .NET server core stack and introducing a free and “fully featured” edition of Visual Studio.
“One of the things Microsoft wants is for Azure to be the target anybody on any platform,” Pence says. “Microsoft needs to embrace the full stack if it is serious about the ‘anybody on any platform’ statement.”
Will a PHP developer care that he can use Visual Studio? Not likely. But as Pence points out, it does give every developer a more even-keeled chance of putting all the different languages under their belts. Developers don’t need Windows to use Visual Studio, if they choose to Visual Studio.
People have been talking about how Microsoft’s closed system was closing in on them. (Much like people have been talking about IBM i’s reputation as a siloed, difficult to integrate system.) “Go to YouTube and type in ‘Microsoft is irrelevant,'” Pence suggests. Some of these videos are by influential people and it’s hard not to agree with them.”
Regardless of the relevance debate, it’s a fair observation that Microsoft recognizes the importance of developers.
“Microsoft knows the world revolves around developers. They want to appeal to the developers they’ve been missing–the PHP, node, and Ruby developers, for instance,” Pence says.
This won’t magically fix everything and quiet Microsoft’s critics, but it opens the door for change. The idea of porting Microsoft Web components and frameworks to Linux (and OSX), brings an interoperability that didn’t exist before. And interoperability is going to having increasing significance in the years ahead.
This is a big deal for Microsoft, just as it has been for IBM in its forays into open source. Still, it is fun to remember when Microsoft executives hissed that Linux was “un-American” and would poison innovation. I don’t think you’ll be hearing that again.