Does the channel love Microsoft loving Linux?

Will Microsoft's sordid romance with its arch nemesis result in innovative solutions for the channel, or is Redmond simply attempting to siphon off some of that sweet FOSS nectar?

The channel is still trying to figure out exactly what Microsoft’s new found love for Linux and the open source community means. Is it a move for the greater good, that will ultimately bring innovative new solutions to the reseller community; or is Nadella using sleight of hand, and simply looking after his shareholders’ interests?

Redmond’s steadfast refusal to play nice with the world of open source is a story as old as MS-DOS. This Holy War has been repeatedly stoked by Microsoft executives over the years. In 2001, former-CEO, turned basketball team owner, Steve Ballmer said: “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.”

When Satya Nadella finally took the reins from Ballmer, the impression was that Microsoft had entered a new era. The ‘cloud-first, mobile-first’ era, as Nadella put it. When the new CEO hosted a press conference in 2015, with the words “Microsoft ♥ Linux” behind him, the trade press had a field day. This really really was a new Microsoft.

The stunt was followed up with some pretty tangible action. In the months that followed, Microsoft made a range of Android apps available, adding GNU/Linux options to the Azure cloud. and more recently, joining the Eclipse Foundation as a Solutions Member. Last week, the Windows-maker proudly announced that it was to make SQL Server available on Linux.

“This is an enormously important decision for Microsoft, allowing it to offer its well-known and trusted database to an expanded set of customers”, said Al Gillen, group vice president, enterprise infrastructure, at IDC. “By taking this key product to Linux Microsoft is proving its commitment to being a cross platform solution provider. This gives customers choice and reduces the concerns for lock-in. We would expect this will also accelerate the overall adoption of SQL Server.”

Of course, while SQL Server is now Linux-compatible, it remains proprietary software, and critics argue that Microsoft’s apparent love for everything open source, is little more than it tapping into new revenue streams.

As James Darvell said on LinuxJournal: “To state the obvious, Microsoft is a profit-making entity. It's an investment vehicle for its shareholders and a source of income for its employees. Everything it does has a single ultimate goal: revenue.”

Roughly 25% of all the servers on Microsoft's Azure cloud are now Linux-based and so it makes perfect business sense for the company to exploit previously this opportunity. It ties into Nadella’s wider ethos. He seems to have accepted that there are certain things Microsoft will never do well, so is instead focusing on core products and services, and making them as interoperable as possible with the wider ecosystem.

Of course, some die-hard FOSS comrades will spit at the gestures coming from Redmond, stating that Microsoft’s actions go against the principles that guide the open source movement.

And they’d probably be right; but that doesn’t mean that Microsoft’s actions do not represent a positive shift, for enterprise customers, developers and the channel. In fact, channel partners seem to be overwhelmingly in favour of Microsoft's new BFF.

Julian Dyer, CTO of Cobweb, a Microsoft Gold Partner, told MicroScope that he thought the move was a small but positive step.

“It's all potential new business, for our resellers and customers to adopt cloud,” he said. “While this SQL on Linux capability from the product point of view is likely to be basic for some time, its grabbed some headline attention and I think shows Microsoft’s intent on delivering a cloud foundation using all the 'traditional' operating systems that IT and software vendors have been working with for many years.”

Even the outspoken Steve Ballmer has come around to this new way of thinking. Speaking to Reuters at a dinner hosted by Fortune magazine, Ballmer said his hard-line position was right for the time, but added that the threat from Linux was now "in the rearview mirror."

“The company made a ton of money by fighting that battle very well,” Ballmer said, adding that it had been 'incredibly important to the company’s revenue stream' to maintain its position with its own Windows operating system.

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