Microsoft needs Linux, but Linux doesn't need Microsoft

Primary tabs

A few days ago, the Microsoft Corporation trumpeted the news: it has joined the Linux Foundation. For many this was seen as a "pigs will fly" moment. For others of us, it's just the next step in a pretty predictable plan.

Microsoft is pivoting of Linux like a swimmer uses the wall at the end of a pool. The only problem for Microsoft is that Linux can really swim. Microsoft is doggy paddling and is struggling for breath. Their pivot is away from their traditional bread and butter - software, operating systems, and hardware: their forays into mobile have failed abejectly. Their Windows 10 has achieved a resounding "meh" from the market - the fact it's had such penetration is due to OEM inertia and (arguably) anti-competitive installation contracts, combined with $billions spent on marketing and promotion, plus gratis upgrades. Even MS' new computing hardware is nice, but is made dimmer by Windows 10 and the very high price tag.

Depending on your perspective, the Microsoft corporation is lucky that it has the benefit of 20 years worth of monopoly profits in the bank. That gives it possibilities. Its move to cloud services is clever, and I applaud the idea of offering services that facilitate more open source platforms for innovation. Problem is, with Azure, Microsoft is simply pushing the proprietary lock-in farther up the stack with their proprietary APIs.

They splash their money around sponsoring open source and CC-licensed projects, like the most worthy "CS Unplugged", not out of the sort of altruism and spirit of enlightened self-interest that permeates the open source communities of the world, but rather out of rather unenlightened self-interest that's about privatising profits while socialising costs. They use their "donations" to fuel press releases to buy them the accolades of "altruism" without any acts. They're trying to buy friends and credibility.

I feel bad for well intentioned people like Scott Hanselman, who "evangelises" open source on behalf of Microsoft, for falling for the ruse. They really think that Microsoft has changed. Well, they've fallen for the same public relations spin as many of the new generation of the software development world. They have no memory of past grievances perpetrated by the Microsoft Corporation, and they, sadly, have an unjustifiably rosy view of corporations.

They forget that Microsoft was fundamentally at war with open source communities for 2 decades, using their monopoly profits to market lies tarnishing open source credibility, funding proxy companies in a vain effort to litigate Linux to death or at least make it unacceptably risky for anyone to adopt.

They forget is that a public multinational corporation is not "the people who work in it", it's the leadership of the board and the shareholders who elect them. For those people, the only measure of success is maximised return to shareholders. If the operational leadership (the C-level folks) are deemed to be failing to get "ROI" on the money spent marketing Microsoft's new-found love for open source, then they will be replaced by those who take a more predatory approach. Don't forget that prior to the rise of open source and Linux, Microsoft was the biggest corporation in human history. Its fortunes have definitely turned as the result of some very poor management decisions. They're now in a "if you can't beat 'em, make it look like you're trying to join 'em" mode.

If Microsoft was really serious about open source, rather than in simply appearing to love open source and Linux, they would reform their software patent trolling ways and gift all of their software patents to the Open Innovation Network (OIN) to encourage open innovation.

As it is, Microsoft actively stifle such innovation, sometimes through unofficially affiliated proxies. For the record, they current make substantially more money from patent "royalties" extorted from largely East Asian Android device makers than it does from its entire flagship WindowsPhone or Windows 10 mobile device efforts.

Android is now by far the most widely used operating system in the world. Microsoft has worked out how to parasitically benefit from this ubiquity: they threaten these OEMs with patent litigation, which inevitably takes place in the jurisdiction of East Texas, where largely illiterate juries historically always finds in favour of US corporates. The very real risk of possibly losing these suits, despite the extreme weakness of the Microsoft mobile technology patents (I've already written tomes on 'low quality software patents' like almost all of those held by Microsoft), combined with the desirability of selling into the US market, means that the OEMs capitulate and pay a per-sale royalty to Microsoft, as it's a lower risk.

Until Microsoft kicks its software patent addiction, no matter what its Press Releases say, the corporation is no friend to Linux. But Microsoft needs appear to support Linux to slow the rate of developers abandoning its rather old-fashioned and fading technology stack. Because, without people developing for your platform, your shareholders have got a whole lot of nothing.

Add new comment

Note to commenters: due to problems with spam comments, your comment will only appear on this site after it's been deemed (by me) to be legitimate.