Today’s announcement of Visual Studio Code, Microsoft’s new cross-platform development environment for Windows, Mac and Linux, comes on the heels of an aggressive push within the company to embrace open source technologies (the core of .NET was open sourced under an MIT license six months ago, and there’s now a company page whose theme is “Openness”). To those of us who have been around awhile (my MCSE number was in the low 1,000s when I passed the test in 1997), there’s a bit of deja vu involved. But in a good way.
According to Mark Hill, Microsoft’s new Vice President of Open Source Sales and Marketing, his company’s CEO, Satay Nadella, has declared that they shouldn’t be writing any code that’s already been written. He says that means from now on Microsoft’s developers will not only make use of open source ideas, but will include open source in their products. In a recent interview with the Linux Action Show, Hill revealed that he’s in the process of placing open source facilitators in key positions across the company to insure the success of that initiative.
A number of years ago a colleague sent me a link to a Microsoft corporate page that showed a group of Microsoft developers in conference. A plushy penguin doll sat conspicuously on top of a shelf in the background.
There was a time, back before the turn of the century, that I used to tweak my still Microsoft-bound colleagues by running the strings command against key library files for the Windows TCP/IP stack — just to rub the tell-tale BSD license notice in their faces. At the time enterprise networking on both Windows desktops and servers was almost evenly split between Netware’s proprietary IPX/SPX and the open TCP/IP protocols. No one really wanted to be enslaved to Novell, so the Microsoft guys were all for jumping onto the TCP/IP bandwagon.
When Linux first started picking up steam most techs didn’t have to be reminded that Microsoft had once been the proud owner of Xenix, a product that owed a lot to the same Unix community that was now embracing Linux. Going head-to-head with Novell in the data center, Microsoft tossed aside the IBM LAN Manager core of its Windows NT network operating system and adopted LDAP for account management and Kerberos for authentication: both Unix technologies that ran natively on Linux. The short-lived Services for Unix product made interoperability between NT and Unix machines easier.
Then some bird brain in the upper echelons of Microsoft decided that Linux was a cancer and open source equivalent to communism, and a chill set in from their side.
So here we are almost a decade later and Microsoft is making the latest incarnation of its code editing software freely downloadable for Linux machines, buying cotton candy for visitors to this year’s LinuxFest NorthWest, and aggressively moving to make open source part of its core business.