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Microsoft Doubles Down on Open Source

By Jack M. Germain
Nov 20, 2015 2:59 PM PT

Microsoft this week announced at its Connect conference in New York City an expansion of its developer tools with a focus on Linux, Android and open source.

Microsoft Doubles Down on Open Source

The move is an effort to help close the gap between Microsoft's developer platforms and the open source world.

The programs involve free access for developers who are just getting started, a new subscription to Microsoft services, a marketplace for extensions, updates to .NET, and the renaming of Visual Studio Online.

"The role of developers has changed a lot in the last five to seven years," said John Montgomery, director of program management for Microsoft.

One key change -- bring your own device in enterprises -- requires developers to be able to target iOS and Android phones alongside Windows desktops, he told LinuxInsider. Also, a lot of Microsoft Azure cloud development is happening on Linux.

Adapting to Change

The Visual Studio lineup is adapting to this changing landscape. Microsoft is making it easier for developers to use a familiar, powerful tool set to build for these platforms while sharing as much code as possible, Montgomery said.

The free Visual Studio Dev Essentials program, for example, bundles many of the company's tools and services into one package. It gives developers access to Visual Studio Community, Visual Studio Code and Visual Studio Team Services. It also provides training services from a number of partners, including Pluralsight, Wintellect and Xamarin, he said.

Developers will get monthly and annual subscriptions to Visual Studio's Professional and Enterprise editions.

Five million people have downloaded Microsoft Visual Studio 2015 so far this year, according to Microsoft.

Mutual Gains

The newfound cross-platform cooperation is the result of forays by both sides of the developer chasm. Microsoft has become increasingly receptive to working with competing platform developers.

"Microsoft has done a lot in the last few years to both contribute to and to consume from the open source community," said Montgomery.

For example, the company last year announced that it would open source .NET Core and make it available across platforms. Now it's making available release candidates for Linux, Mac and Windows, he said.

"Microsoft is actually seriously learning to play well with others," said Mike Dixon, founder of Wellington Street Consulting.

It's a welcome change from the company's "me first" history, he told LinuxInsider. The change in posture also is evident by Microsoft's pushing some new apps to Apple and Android devices before developing them for Windows devices.

Attitude Adjustment All Around

The realignment of goals for Microsoft and the open source community has brought successes to both sides. Linux and Microsoft got off to a really bad start, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

That was "largely because those backing Linux pretty much had killing Microsoft as their No. 1 goal in those early years, and not only had Microsoft contributed to some of their educations, they felt the Linux guys were stealing from them," he told LinuxInsider.

Most of the folks with that mindset have moved on or out on both sides. New folks coming into Microsoft didn't see the point in continuing the fight and increasingly saw an opportunity.

"The irony is that Microsoft started as a firm focused on bringing technology to the masses, which was a good portion of the Linux effort," Enderle said. "In a way, becoming far more friendly with Linux is a return to Microsoft's roots."

Resistance Is Futile

The transition from former CEO Steve Ballmer to current CEO Satya Nadella accelerated this change. Remnants of the old corporate regime still exist but are fading away.

"They are now in the minority and largely out of power, which is resulting is some very powerful initiatives like this one," said Enderle.

Microsoft finally is abandoning the singular, maybe myopic, platform vision and strategy under Ballmer. That is due in large part to Nadella's deeper understanding of and relationship with the developer community, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"Consumers and businesses alike are far more IT-agnostic than ever before. So if Microsoft wants to survive and thrive, it needs to play nice with others and learn to work with them effectively. The news out of Connect reflects that change in attitude," he told LinuxInsider.

"It is also likely that many others within Microsoft's leadership organization recognize that we live in a far different world today than in times when choosing a computing platform was akin to a religious baptism," said King.

The company is becoming far more profitable as a result of embracing these concepts than it was fighting them, Enderle concluded.

Microsoft Benefits

Microsoft has come a long way in transforming from an enemy of open source software to an active and prominent participant in the community, said Jay Lyman, research manager for cloud platforms at 451 Research.

"With this implementation of the .NET Core for any operating system, developers can start using it in production environments," he told LinuxInsider.

The ASP.NET 5 release candidate includes enhancements to both the runtime and tools with a simplified hosting model across Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Open sourcing the .NET Core and ASP.NET already has created development opportunities for Microsoft customers such as Verizon, according to Lyman.

Microsoft is focusing on emerging technologies and trends such as cloud computing, big data, DevOps, mobility and application containers, which are heavily influenced by open source software.

"So it is a measure of maturity and evolution," noted Lyman, "not only for Microsoft but also for open source software."


Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him on Google+.


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a major product fail
major unethical corporate behavior
public advocacy of social or political views I oppose
a really bad customer service experience
stagnation -- I'm attracted to innovation
none of the above -- I'll stick through thick and thin