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Does Microsoft really love open source?

Paul Rubens | Aug. 22, 2014
Microsoft is involved in many major open source projects, including Hadoop and Docker. What's motivating the company to abandon its 'proprietary-only' roots?

But Rabellino insists that Microsoft has gone beyond that and is a good open source citizen. "It's not just about 'doing' open source," he says. "It's about how you do it. We have not just taken something, opened sourced it and dumped the code. We are an effective contributor."

Rabellino points to how Microsoft has helped bring Linux support to Azure in what he deems the right way. "We could have made proprietary drivers, but no, we've open sourced them," he says. The same is true of the way Microsoft has helped bring Hadoop support to Windows and Node.js support to Azure.

Microsoft's 'Humility' Leads It to Embrace Open Source
Has Microsoft genuinely changed from an open source hater to an open source lover?

"Compared to 10 years ago, it's mind-blowing that Microsoft is doing what [it's] doing now," says Wes Miller, a research vice president at Directions on Microsoft. "If you look at open source projects like Hadoop or Docker (both of which Microsoft is involved in), in the past Microsoft would have tried to crush them with its own closed source product."

Why isn't Microsoft seeking to crush this type of project now?

"Firstly, there's a new humility at Microsoft -- a realization that they can't be everything to everyone," Miller says.

In addition, Microsoft is admitting that projects such as Hadoop "do things in a better way, and in a way that the community is endeared to," he adds. "Hadoop is very popular, and although the company tried its own rival technologies, it ended up working with (project sponsor) Hortonworks. [Microsoft is] recognizing the perimeter of its skills."

As well as recognizing that the "best" solution for a given purpose may be an open source one rather than a Microsoft one, there's also the desire to integrate Microsoft technologies into open source projects to benefit its proprietary software business, Miller believes. "Microsoft is choosing open source projects that benefit it in specific ways. A lot of this is about trying to bootstrap Windows development using things that people are familiar with."

Making sure Azure supports Linux is another way of promoting Microsoft's cloud computing environment, Miller adds. Porting Node.js to Azure is another case in point.

If Microsoft Can't Beat Open Source, Might as Well Join It
Mark Driver, a research vice president at Gartner, says that part of Microsoft's motivation for embracing open source software is the notion, "If you can't beat it, join it." He adds: "Open source is the principal delivery mechanism for the open innovation that fuels the Internet, and you can't be considered part of the Internet community if you're outside it."


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