How Microsoft Became an Unlikely Open Source Champion

Mitch Wagner
2/20/2018
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Enterprises are sometimes resistant to open source. They're concerned about being able to keep up with the myriad projects under development, and knowing which is right for them. Microsoft advises those enterprises: "You shouldn't go out and use the latest and greatest," according to Gossman. Enterprises starting out with open source should stick with mature projects, such as Red Hat, Java and Hadoop. And it turns out enterprises are already using those technologies, even if they are officially still resistant to open source.

The focus on mature projects is reflected in Microsoft's own views on which open source projects are important. Linux, "obviously," is very important to Microsoft, Gossman says -- "it's the basis of a lot of things." Also languages, including .NET and C#, TypeScript, Go, Python, Ruby, Java and C++. Also important: Container projects, such as Docker and Kubernetes, as well as big data such as Hadoop, Mongo, MySQL and Postgres. "With the exception of Kubernetes, these are mature projects that have been around for five to 15 years or longer," Gossman says. "These are the ones that we see used the most."

Gossman adds, "These are also the ones that we use ourselves." Microsoft's Skype service runs on Linux, as does LinkedIn, which also relies on the Kafka data streaming platform. "And even independent of LinkedIn, we are one of the largest Kafka users in the world," Gossman says.

Another concern from enterprises about open source is that software developers will walk out with the company intellectual property. But the reality is that code is less important than people, Gossman says. Non-engineers think code is more important than it actually is.

"I have seen people who are not software people think that there is more value in the code than there is in people who can write the code," Gossman say. "You can have the code and if you don't have the developers there is not much you can do. But if you have the developers you are in good shape whether you have the code or not."

Organizations looking to become more proficient in open source should look to resources from the Linux Foundation on how to manage and use open source projects, and how to build an open source program office, Gossman says.

Making the transition to open source can be a lot of work, particularly when a company considers releasing its own internal code to open source, Gossman says. Open source needs community to be worthwhile -- it needs people outside your organization contributing to the code. Code often needs to be rewritten, to be sure the comments are helpful and that the code is properly documented. Internal software projects often rely on what Gossman calls "lore" -- internal discussion between development teams -- that outsiders will not be privy too. All of that needs to be documented.

And companies need to devote people to making sure code developed by the community is reviewed and accepted. "It's bad practice if somebody puts out a pull request and nobody looks at it for six months," Gossman says.

Why bother? Because it gets results. For example, Microsoft open sourced .NET about five years ago. After that, the community added support for the Mac, Samsung Corp. got it running on ARM processors, and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) made improvements to the compiler to make .NET run faster on their CPUs.

"We get collaboration with customers." Gossman says. "It's very helpful in recruiting. Most developers love open source, many of them prefer to work on open source." Involvement in open source projects "looks good on their resumes," Gossman says.

Gossman adds, "It's not a charity. It's not a PR effort. Open source is absolutely core to our business."

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— Mitch Wagner Follow me on Twitter Visit my LinkedIn profile Visit my blog Follow me on Facebook Editor, Enterprise Cloud News

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Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/2/2018 | 5:14:18 AM
Re: Going with the flow
@maryam: Sure. This is why major security flaws proliferate in open-source code for years upon years -- because the kind of people open source generally attracts are more interested in features than the more boring stuff like security. So too for documentation -- also very boring, but just as essential.
maryam@impact
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[email protected],
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/28/2018 | 4:14:37 PM
Re: Going with the flow
Yes, passion is good but commitment can rival that if someone is not committed to growing and maturing the code it doesn' evolve that's what creates so much of the uncertainty in using it for many. Lack of documentation and support 
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/27/2018 | 10:47:49 PM
Re: Going with the flow
@Michelle: Moreover, leveraging well-accepted open-source code and open-standards frameworks is a selling point unto itself when developers and entrepreneurs try to get companies on board with their projects. You're far more likely to not be told to go away if you can say you use, say, RHEL as opposed to whatever homespun niche offshoot you've developed.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/27/2018 | 10:44:03 PM
Re: Going with the flow
@Michelle: What can I say? Passion doesn't pay the bills. ;)
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/27/2018 | 1:27:12 PM
Re: Going with the flow
Longterm support can be tough. Open Source developers experience burnout too. Passion is good in the early years, but it can quickly drain through the lifecycle of a project.
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/27/2018 | 1:24:20 PM
Re: Going with the flow
Exactly. "If company A contributes, then it can't be too crazy."
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/26/2018 | 9:52:24 PM
Re: Going with the flow
@Michelle: That's key. Frankly, outside of games and a few particular utilities, open-source stuff that is left to contemporaneously (though, inevitably, waningly) passionate individual developers tend to eventually fizzle out in terms of support. Even widely used tools can fall by the wayside in terms of their development. Case in point: After TrueCrypt had numerous severe vulnerabilities exposed in a security audit, distributions of the software were halted -- with the website urging visitors to instead download BitLocker (a Microsoft product).
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/26/2018 | 2:24:23 PM
Re: Going with the flow
I think it helps the cause when very large companies contribute to a codebase too. It shows the rest of the world that the software is important and is being maintained by real professionals. 
kq4ym
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kq4ym,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/26/2018 | 12:30:12 PM
Re: Going with the flow
Interesting the section on how the lawyers had to get aboard the open source train dealing with all the licensing and intelletual property issues involved. It's only logical of course that one of the main reasons Microsoft shifted is simply that "Microsoft had to support the software its customers want to run, and much of that software is open source."
maryam@impact
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[email protected],
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/26/2018 | 11:34:27 AM
Re: Going with the flow
@Michelle I agree when established enterprises adopt a new technology others take notice. Now Open Source doesn't seem like the Wild West it once was to many.
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
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