Has Microsoft figured out a cure for cancer?

The company, whose CEO Steve Ballmer once famously compared Linux to that disease, is now one of the top 20 contributors of code to the open-source operating system’s kernel, according to a new report out this morning from the nonprofit Linux Foundation.

It’s the first time Microsoft has appeared on the list.

The company’s contributions to the Linux kernel are still outpaced by Red Hat, Novell, IBM and many others. But Microsoft’s appearance at No. 17 on the list reflects the company’s increasingly pragmatic approach, and a recognition that corporate customers will inevitably use open-source technologies alongside Windows and other Microsoft products.

In a news release, the Linux Foundation says, “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.”

Overall, the volume of corporate contributions to the Linux kernel debunk some of the traditional stereotypes about the operating system’s development. The Linux Foundation says in its report this morning that “over 75% of all kernel development is demonstrably done by developers who are being paid for their work.”

Microsoft’s contributions to the Linux kernel began with the 2009 release of driver code to help Linux run in conjunction with Windows Server’s virtualization technology.

Ballmer made his controversial remark about Linux in a 2001 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, in the context of the General Public License used for Linux. “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches,” the Microsoft CEO said at the time. “That’s the way that the license works.”

Microsoft is still at odds with the open-source community in other ways, including its patent claims against makers of Android-based devices. But Microsoft has been warming to open-source technologies in general in recent years, releasing quite a few of its own projects as open-source technologies, for others to work with and use.

Here’s a video released by the Linux Foundation in conjunction with its report this morning.

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  • Guest

    Congratulations and thank you to Microsoft! I see the 2012 Microsoft reinventing itself, just as IBM did when it switched its focus from mainframes and PCs to Linux, for a vibrant new future. I love this strategy.

    • Jim Halfpenny

       Really? Do let me know now IBM got along with that strategy.

      • Rob Roland

        IBM is doing great with that strategy.


        You were saying?

        • Egsdfgergsdr

          The vast majority of IBM profits come from thir services offering, not Linux.  And they still sell plenty of mainframe.  Get your facts straight.

          • Guest

            That’s OK. Microsoft will still sell trillions of dollars worth of Windows and Office as they shift their focus to Linux improvement. As with IBM, they’ll find themselves helping many companies with valuable services — you know, like helping them Linux.

          • Rob Roland

            Your point is?

            IBM is quite profitable, and their Linux strategy is a part of that. It’s not the most profitable line of business for them, but that’s just fine.

            Get YOUR facts straight.

      • Guest

        IBM is growing faster than MS and their stock has recovered significantly. Their latest strategy is going well enough that there’s no significant group of people questioning whether they’ll survive the next decade. The same can’t be said for MS, where it’s a daily topic of conversation in the media.

    • Guest

      IBM has successfully reinvented itself several times, most recently around cloud services and software. MS has yet to successfully reinvent itself once. I don’t see the turnaround you do. What is it centered on? What part of their current efforts has any chance of taking over from Windows and Office as those products continue to mature and growth declines? This “reinvention” shtick is simply Ballmer’s latest desperate attempt to keep his job. He has finally woken up to just how much trouble MS is in after thirteen years of his “leadership” and realizes that unless he talks about major change his tenure as CEO is coming to an end.

      The market doesn’t see it either. MS peaked on March 15th. The market has had a strong run since, with companies like Apple continuing their already better than MS gains on the year (as usual). But MS hasn’t matched that recent surge and has in fact declined following the release of the W8 consumer preview.

      There is one good thing about Ballmer’s recent revelation though. He’s finally keeping an extremely low profile instead of the endless arrogance in the face of continued competitive losses which characterized the past five years.

      • momus_98

        Not sure if this is the reinvention you’re looking for, but Windows 7 has been a very successful product since its release, which helped MS recover from the Vista debacle.

        And correlation does not necessarily equal causation, so MS “peaking” following the release of what is, in fact, a preview version of Windows 8 means nothing. From what I’ve gathered around the ‘tubes is a mostly positive buzz for the touch-friendly OS, which is scheduled to ship later this year. I wouldn’t count MS out just yet.

  • Nick G

    These articles always fail to mention that the code Microsoft contributed is for Hyper-V hypervisor from Microsoft. This code is to have Linux run on a Windows host machine, using Microsoft’s virtualization technology.

    The only reason this code was released as open-source was because Greg KH pointed out to MS that they were using GPL’d code, and were violating the license. This is hardly a change in MS culture.

    • Nathan

       Perhaps you should read ScottGu’s post about open sourcing their web stack. After you have read it, then comment on the change in MS culture.


      • Nick G

        From ScottGu’s wiki page: “He runs the development teams that build ASP.NET, Common Language Runtime (CLR), Core .NET Base Class Library, Silverlight, Windows Forms, WPF, Internet Information Services 7.5, Commerce Server, .NET Compact Framework, Visual Web Developer and Visual Studio Tools for WPF.”

        The MVC framework is a feature-light derivative of ASP.NET, and while yes it and one of its view engines are under the Apache license, literally nothing else he has worked on is. A single anomaly does not constitute a cultural shift.

        • Nathan

          I disagree, I believe that this is a start to cultural change, see both Hanselman’s post, and Phil Haack’s post. Both these guys and others at MS have been pushing for a more open Microsoft.

          Hanselman talks about this being the beginning of more of the ASP.NET stack being open sourced. And while from the outside it’s easy to criticize that maybe this could/should have been done 1/2/5/10 years ago, I believe that some people have been working very hard to facilitate this, and the very fact that it’s happened means that they’ve got people on board with it.

          The proof will be over the next 12-18 months. As they release .NET 5, VS2012 and other products will things begin to fall into the open-source camp.

          Also, I failed to mention (and perhaps you’re unaware), they ship NuGet (opensource) in Visual Studio, and have shipped JQuery since 2008 (without subverting it)



  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    And in other news, Steve Pool reports that there’s a Winter Storm warning for our friends in the infernal city of Dis so be sure to bundle up down there!

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