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Channel Watch

Does Microsoft Finally Get Open Source?

The path to a more open world has been an unpleasant one for Microsoft -- until recently.

When Microsoft first started addressing market pressure toward open source, the company didn't get it. Probably it's more accurate to say Microsoft didn't want to get it. Or wanted to pretend not to get it.

A key exhibit was the Shared Source Initiative (SSI), an early 2000s initiative to allow certain parties to view and use source code under certain circumstances. The company billed it as a nod toward open source. A few of the license models under Shared Source gained the blessing of open source standards bodies, although the term "Shared Source" still drew criticism as a marketing effort to dilute the term "open source."

One pillar of open source philosophy is that many eyes on the code make it more secure and stable by spotting flaws, dangerous shortcuts and questionable decisions. One of the SSI programs that didn't get outside standards blessing was the Government Security Program (GSP), allowing government agencies to review Microsoft source code in a tightly controlled setting for security purposes. In light of subsequent events, the GSP is actually pretty alarming.

At the time, Microsoft intended to ease government fears about rumored backdoors in its code and about the security of Microsoft software in general. As shown by the Edward Snowden revelations starting in 2013 and the Stuxnet attack with its profligate use of four zero-day flaws, governments themselves were a much greater threat to global computer security than was widely recognized previously.

Over the last few years, and accelerating from 2014, Microsoft has been moving to open source more and more of its code and to embrace open source products, projects and players, as we at RCPmag.com and the entire technology press has chronicled extensively.

Open sourcing Windows itself still looks like a long shot. But Microsoft in the last few months made some very significant moves -- open sourcing Windows PowerShell and releasing it on Linux, and releasing the Windows 10 Anniversary Edition with Bash and a Linux subsystem.

At LinuxCon in August, longtime open source-community figure and recent Microsoft hire Wim Coekaerts detailed Microsoft's recent history from the contribution of 20,000 lines of code to the Linux kernel in 2009 to the Docker and Red Hat alliance partnerships to the Linux versions of the Microsoft .NET Framework, Visual Studio and SQL Server.

Arguably Microsoft's most impactful nod so far toward open source was to support Linux, Docker and other related technologies on the Azure public cloud. No component of the Microsoft product stack is more strategic to Microsoft's long-term future than Azure, and Microsoft made the decision to welcome its former enemies right into the heart of Azure. With Microsoft now noting that one-third of Azure virtual machines are running on Linux, the effort clearly has traction.

The path to a more open world has been an unpleasant one for Microsoft, largely due to its own behavior over the decades. After a lot of kicking and screaming, the company seems to really understand that the best outcome for its customers, and arguably for Microsoft itself, is to take open source seriously. Do you believe in Microsoft's change of heart on open source? Let me know at sbekker@rcpmag.com.

More Columns by Scott Bekker:

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.