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article imageMicrosoft says Linux is no longer 'cancer,' joining Foundation

By James Walker     Nov 16, 2016 in Technology
Microsoft has seemingly completed its transition to being a company that cares about open-source by joining the Linux Foundation as a Platinum member. The move would have been unthinkable for the famously closed company only a few years ago.
Microsoft's relationship with the open-source Linux community is notorious for being almost non-existent. Former CEO Steve Ballmer once described Linux as a "cancer" that threatened to obscure Microsoft's proprietary closed-source software.
In recent years, the company has transformed itself. Under Satya Nadella, Microsoft has embraced open-source Linux projects, bringing some of its most important software for developers to the platform and publicly showing slides confessing a "love" for Linux.
Today, it reached a milestone in its endorsement of the platform. At its annual Connect developers event in New York, Microsoft announced it is joining the Linux Foundation as a Platinum Member. It joins companies including Samsung, Qualcomm, Oracle, Intel, Huawei and IBM in the platinum rank, paying $500,000 a year for the privilege. Facebook and Google are amongst those in the lower Gold position.
Jim Zemlin, the Linux Foundation's executive director, alluded to the "old" Microsoft's approach to Linux in a comment to TechCrunch. "This may come as a surprise to you, but they were not big fans," he said.
The Microsoft of today takes a very different view. Even three years ago, Microsoft joining the Foundation would have been unthinkable. It has transformed itself in just a few years though, becoming an active contributor to some of the largest open-source projects.
Microsoft has contributed to Node.js, the Open Container Initiative and the R Consortium, amongst many others. It has also open-sourced large parts of its formerly proprietary .NET platform and brought its PowerShell scripting environment to Linux. Today, it announced another of its most important products is coming to the platform. SQL Server for Linux is available in preview today, making Microsoft's popular database engine available to Linux developers.
Microsoft's newfound commitment to open-source is a product of a company-wide push to make its services available to as many people as possible. When it open-sourced PowerShell in August, Microsoft noted how it's operating in a "multi-platform, multi-cloud, multi-OS world."
After years of treating Linux as a malignant "cancer," Microsoft has been forced into realising it's no longer enough to write closed software for Windows systems and charge a fixed fee for it. Much of the rest of the industry moved away from that model years ago and Microsoft is now catching up with the times.
"We want to help developers achieve more and capitalize on the industry’s shift toward cloud-first and mobile-first experiences using the tools and platforms of their choice," said Scott Guthrie, Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise Executive VP. "By collaborating with the community to provide open, flexible and intelligent tools and cloud services, we’re helping every developer deliver unprecedented levels of innovation."
Microsoft's endorsement of open-source software has been welcomed by most community members. There remains some scepticism though, particularly around its long-term commitment and its wider intentions. Zemlin noted an "anti-establishment sentiment" remains around open-source projects but suggested Microsoft's wide-ranging work with Linux over the past few years suggests it's genuinely trying to get involved.
Alongside the announcement today, Microsoft also launched the release candidate of Visual Studio 2017, the next-generation version of its advanced software development environment for Windows. The company has focused on streamlining and optimising Visual Studio, making it faster and more productive for developers. It also unveiled a preview version of Visual Studio for Mac. While it doesn't include all the features of its Windows counterpart, the Mac version again marks the importance Microsoft places on bringing its software to every platform.
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