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Microsoft's Linux Labors: A Signal of Defeat?

By Katherine Noyes
Apr 9, 2012 5:00 AM PT

Such has been the joy in the Linux blogosphere over Red Hat's ascendance to the billion-dollar sphere that it's been difficult to imagine anything that could possibly top that excitement.

Microsoft's Linux Labors: A Signal of Defeat?

But guess what? A new report from the Linux Foundation recently offered news that many consider equally momentous -- and potentially just as encouraging for FOSS.

"For the first time, Microsoft appears on [the] list of companies that are contributing to the Linux kernel," noted the foundation in a press release last week announcing the latest edition of its report on the state of the Linux kernel.

'Microsoft Is Working to Adapt'

"Ranking at number 17, the company that once called Linux a 'cancer' today is working within the collaborative development model to support its virtualization efforts and its customers," the announcement adds. "Because Linux has reached a state of ubiquity, in which both the enterprise and mobile computing markets are relying on the operating system, Microsoft is clearly working to adapt."

Yes, that's right, folks -- Microsoft is now in the top 20 list of the Linux kernel's biggest contributors. And no, the news didn't break on April 1!

What does it all mean? That's been the question on Linux bloggers' lips at PCWorld, Slashdot, TuxRadar and beyond.

'It Means I've Won'

"Did hell freeze over already??" began Anonymous Coward on Slashdot, for example.

"No. Microsoft just found a way to make money on open source OS," retorted Soilworker.

Alternatively, "why not?" quipped Eternaldoctorwho. "It looks like this will be the year of the linux desktop!"

Over on TuxRadar, meanwhile, blogger jarubyh quoted none other than Linus Torvalds himself, who once said, "if Microsoft ever does applications for Linux, it means I've won."

'They Are Recognizing the Movement'

In other words, "Microsoft churning out Free Software simply goes to show that even they are recognizing the movement as important and effective," jarubyh explained.

"Let's hope it's not an 'Embrace, extend, extinguish' attempt," added Linuxrich.

Bloggers' interpretations were all over the board, so Linux Girl ordered a fresh Peppermint Penguin down at the blogosphere's seedy Broken Windows Lounge and settled in to learn more.

'It's Just Good Business'

"Microsoft is making contributions to the Linux Kernel to provide necessary driver layer shims for running Linux in Hyper-V and running Windows in KVM," Google+ blogger Dietrich Schmitz told Linux Girl. "Beyond that, their contributions are nil."

Indeed, "they made changes to allow Linux servers to be hosted on WinServer through their VM software," added Slashdot blogger hairyfeet. "Not much of a surprise there; this lets their customers run LAMP for webserving while still having AD and GPOs for their internal servers.

"It's just good business to give your customers what they want," hairyfeet added.

'One Doesn't Have to Be a Fan'

There are "plenty of prebuilt LAMP VMs that are about as trivial to deploy as one can possibly get, so it only makes sense that some of MSFT's WinServer customers would want to be able to deploy LAMP stacks on their Winserver VMs," hairyfeet explained.

"One doesn't have to be a fan of a piece of software to support it -- see Apple having iTunes and Safari on windows," he pointed out.

"While I'm sure they would prefer that people went out and bought $1000 MacBooks to use with their iPod, the reality is that many iPod owners have Windows machines," hairyfeet added. "It would hurt Apple's bottom line not to support them, so they do."

'A Good Step Forward'

In fact, "Microsoft is adding code to the kernel to help make it work better for Microsoft, and that is exactly how Open Source works," Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien suggested.

"Everyone scratches their own itch, and the wonderful thing about Open Source is that we all get to benefit," he explained. "I hope Microsoft continues to offer code to Open Source."

Similarly, "most of the work Microsoft is doing has to to with making sure Linux works with their own products, but it is still a good step forward in dealing with them," opined consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

"It's good to welcome Microsoft to this great effort," offered Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

'That Other OS Will Become Irrelevant'

Last but not least, blogger Robert Pogson took a dark view not just of Microsoft's intentions, but also of any potential benefits for its bottom line.

"M$'s contribution to Linux is merely to make their OS run in virtual machines on Linux nicely," he said. "Good luck on that... I think most in IT will figure out that it's silly to have a good OS run a poor OS."

Sooner or later, "everyone will have the applications they need in GNU/Linux or on servers, so that other OS will become increasingly irrelevant," he predicted. "In my life that happened a decade ago; others take more time to see the light."

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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