Microsoft President Regrets Company’s Earlier Stance on Open Source

What a difference two decades makes

Microsoft sign
Microsoft's position on open source software has changed dramatically over the years.
Johannes Hemmerlein/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / May 19, 2020 8:56 am

Open source software may be ubiquitous these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Some in the open source community spent years pushing back against well-established companies that had little use for them at the time. In 2001, then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer referred to Linux as “a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.”

Two years later, Ballmer and Bill Gates starred in a video parodying both Linux and The Matrix. (No, really.) But times have changed — and the Microsoft of 2020 is far more open to all things open source than its predecessors.

At The Verge, Tom Warren has the details of a statement made by current Microsoft president Brad Smith at an event at MIT. “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,” he told attendees.

As Warren notes, Microsoft’s use of open source software is wide-ranging in its scope:

Microsoft has gradually been adopting open source in recent years, including open-sourcing PowerShell, Visual Studio Code, and even Microsoft Edge’s original JavaScript engine. Microsoft has also partnered with Canonical to bring Ubuntu to Windows 10, and it acquired Xamarin to aid mobile app development and GitHub to maintain the popular code repository for developers.

Smith is also not the only one to regret their earlier statements on all things open source. At a 2016 event, Ballmer struck a mellower tone with respect to Linux, though he did defend his earlier position as being right for the time. In total, it makes for a fascinating shift in tech company thinking.

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