On Microsoft’s Journey

Nearly a decade on from my original journey model, how far has Microsoft really come? Are they now aligned with their peers?

A decade ago, I wrote about the journey corporations take as they move from treating open source as a threat to embracing software freedom as a corporate philosophy within their business strategy. It wasn’t a perfect model, but it had plenty of resonance for me and many others at the time. The steps were:

  1. Open source as enemy – Attacking and ridiculing the idea of software freedom.
  2. Damage containment – Framing isolated actions as proof of support for the idea while diminishing other projects.
  3. Embrace and extend – Framing larger strategies as proof of embrace while mapping the semantics to deal with inconvenient dissonance.
  4. A change of executive direction – new leadership or direction results in executive air-cover.
  5. Exploratory opening – As business units adapt models, practical barriers to community are removed.
  6. General opening – Projects are expected to switch to open source, exceptions need justifying.
  7. Embrace of software freedom – software freedom is a core company philosophy expressed in all actions.

At the time in 2011, Microsoft was still mostly in stage 1 of the model, with a few groups at stages 2 and 3 and constant turnover of the person hired to be the front-person for open source. It even extended to standards – I had watched as Microsoft, unable to see how to embrace ODF and win through collaboration, instead burned the reputation of ECMA and ISO forcing through OOXML and creating an eternal maintenance burden for themselves.

Over the following decade, they have gradually progressed along the line to embracing software freedom, reaching a bold stage 4 when Satya Nadella was appointed and stage 5 with the partnership with Red Hat. With the acquisition of Github they seemed likely to have reached stage 6, especially when they joined OIN as I’d long proposed, but for me the final confirmation was the comment by Microsoft president Brad Smith:

“Microsoft was on the wrong side of history when open source exploded at the beginning of the century, and I can say that about me personally,”

Brad Smith, cited by The Verge

Of course, the reality is not the words spoken at media-friendly events but the actions taken in private (as I am currently finding with big players in the mobile industry). In many ways, Microsoft was the most direct and honest of the big technology-sector players a decade ago. IBM was busy monetising software patents in private while lauding openness and sharing in public; Oracle was declaring its commitment to openness and even taking the word for the name of its developer conference while doubling down on lock-in.

Microsoft just stuck to the obvious truth that they hated Linux — and by association the whole open source movement — and said it openly. Behind the scenes, all the tech businesses were taking what they could, contributing what they had to and attacking what they couldn’t, but Microsoft was honest about it. That honesty bought them deep hatred from some advocates that even today is unquenchable despite the growing evidence it’s residual bigotry. My concern for those who say they still can’t trust Microsoft now is more that they believe that can trust its peers.

So does this change mean they have really progressed to stage 6? Yes, I think it does, even if there are residual pockets of the old Microsoft. The reality of their cloud strategy and the market it addresses has made the softer tactics of adoption, engagement and collaboration outweigh fierce closed competitive brilliance and embrace-extend-extinguish as their weapons of choice.

Speaking to friends who now find themselves at Microsoft and at Github, it’s clear that today’s Microsoft is not the same company that used to burn out a new open source front-man every two years. This Microsoft wants to collaborate, to lead as a member rather than as an entryist, to do it right rather than just make it look OK. The new blood in Azure and Github has been given permission to tell the old guard to make the new strategy succeed or be wound up, and it’s working. Looks like it’s so effective that IBM wants to copy it.

So why have I not ranked them at stage 7 yet? I’m still not convinced they are there. The test for stage 7 is whether a company picks winning strategies that advance the liberties of others, even if they are not the biggest wins. Given two open source strategies, one that embodies software freedom for others and one that makes Microsoft apparently win more, I wait to be convinced they would stand up for the liberties of others over advantaging Microsoft. Maybe it’s already happening and I just haven’t noticed – do tell me! I am pretty sure an opportunity will come along soon if it isn’t.

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Microsoft & Linux & Patents & Tweets

Fact-checking some tweets about Linux Foundation’s newest member and their harvesting of other members’ money.

unicorn

Microsoft recently joined the Linux Foundation while still asserting its patents against the rest of the membership. As I found that odd, I tweeted some casually-calculated statistics  about Microsoft’s patent revenues that seemed to me to simply be the aggregation of common knowledge. But maybe people have forgotten the details; at least two respondents asked me to substantiate the figures. Having struck a nerve, this post is by way of explanation. Continue reading

Community Credentials

Simon was surprised when he went to the Microsoft press release page looking for the news about Linux support for SQL Server and joining Eclipse. He found that the only press release related to Linux was about patent licensing. He’s written about it today on InfoWorld and expanded the thought on his blog.

Microsoft and Red Hat Make Peace

That’s in the cloud at least. The deal that’s just been announced is certainly more comprehensive than the join marketing and hosting deals that usually show up.

  • .NET will soon be shipping in RHEL and included in OpenShift
  • support staff will be co-located so hybrid cloud customers have a single point of contact
  • there’s some kind of patent standstill between Red Hat and Microsoft

But claims “Microsoft Loves Linux” are premature; this is just the Azure team throwing big money at credibility, not a decision by the whole company to end hostilities. To do that they would need to join OIN.

Full story on InfoWorld.

Big progress in Microsoft’s open source journey

Microsoft’s recent announcement that much of .Net will become open source and that it will support both Linux and Mac OS X is fantastic news. Along with the additional, full-featured, no-cost versions of its developer tools the company is introducing (though they remain proprietary), this represents a large, positive step in Microsoft’s open source journey.

Simon’s spoken and written a number of times about the seven stages of a corporation’s journey into open source and used Microsoft as an illustration of his ideas. This new development puts the company very clearly at the fifth stage of Simon’s scale, which is impressive, but begs the questions “what’s next?”, “how does Microsoft’s open source journey continue to develop from here?”

The answer lies in a holistic view, in which respect for open source extends to every business unit of this famously divided company. While those business units that don’t yet respect open source continue to use tactics such as patent attacks on Linux community members and covert political moves to undermine the Open Document Format, further progress will be slow in coming. Microsoft’s gradual acceptance of the inevitability of open source however, seems to be in full swing. For more detail, check out Simon’s InfoWorld article.

Is Microsoft To Blame For Malware?

The action law enforcement services have taken against the GameOver-Zeus malware syndicate is great news for a change. In the UK, this was communicated with typical tabloid alarmism, framed as “two weeks to save the world” instead of “unusually effective action by law enforcement”. As a result, UK publications have been posting self-preservation information for their readers.

The BBC’s instructions start with the statement “If your computer does not run Windows, stop right here.” Users of other operating systems like Linux or ChromeOS have nothing to worry about this time, even if they are increasingly likely to be targeted elsewhere. As a result, some have asked whether Microsoft is to blame for all this malware. Continue reading

More cautious excitement as Microsoft opens .Net

The Microsoft news is coming thick and fast. A few days ago we discussed Office for iPad, Microsoft’s confession of unethical behaviour and its release of MS-DOS code under a prohibitive license. This weeks news seems even bigger: open source for .Net and $0 pricing for mobile Windows. There’s cause to be excited, yet as ever caution is required.

The excitement comes from the .Net news. The formation of the .Net Foundation and the hosting of 24 projects within it should liberate developers to innovate in a way that seemed impossible under previous leadership. This move has seemed an obvious one for the open source community for a long time, as it offers a new lease of life for .Net through contributor innovation and should help create a rich, monetisable market.

The caution relates to the news that Windows for mobile will be free of charge. Whilst unarguably a big move, it’s not open source — the license terms still restrict how you can use the software. This is important, as whilst a “first hit is free” approach to getting people using mobile Windows might bring some results, the key to sustained innovation and therefore sustained increase in the user base comes from removing the need to ask for permission before you can innovate.

Read Simon’s full analysis in the InfoWorld article.

Microsoft – Reading the Signs

Perhaps it’s too soon to be jumping to conclusions, but is it possible that Microsoft’s promotion of Satya Nadella into the CEO spot is a sign of willingness to change? Holding out for a future in which Microsoft embraces open source, Simon explains in InfoWorld this week why despite the ‘true to character’ release of MS-DOS code under particularly unhelpful licensing terms, the first few weeks of Nadella’s leadership still leave him with a of tinge of hope.

The two incidents he examines are the release of Office for iPad and Microsoft’s moves towards higher ethical standards regarding the privacy of their customers. Whilst there is much caution and qualification, Simon’s reading of the signs seems to be that Nadella is the man to open doors for Open Source at Microsoft. Read his full article on InfoWorld here.

Nokia: Microsoft’s new patent troll?

Since the announcement of Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia there have been numerous assessments of what this says with regard to Microsoft’s future business model. Are they becoming another Apple clone? Much less attention has been paid however to the remains of Nokia.

You see, Microsoft didn’t acquire everything. They’ve got the traditional mobile phones, the smart devices and all related services. That’s all the important bits right? Not quite, Nokia has been left with a mapping data business, a technology business providing phone companies with infrastructure, and (significantly) a considerable portfolio of patents.

Having sold on their physical devices, Nokia is now free to ruthlessly pursue anybody they feel is “infringing” those patents without worrying about counter attacks against their own technologies. Licensing the patents to Microsoft but keeping the patents themselves in hand, Nokia is left as a potentially very unpleasant patent troll, presumably seeking to harass Microsoft’s rivals. For the full story, see Simon’s InfoWorld article.