News & Insights for the AI Journey|Friday, April 19, 2019
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Microsoft’s Embrace of Linux Draws Ire 

(Rose Carson/Shutterstock)

The elevation of Microsoft Corp. to the status of "platinum" member of the Linux Foundation has angered open source advocates who worry the software giant will flex its market muscles and, in the words of one critic, "commercial company interests increasingly are taking over" the open source movement.

The Linux Foundation asserted last week that the move underscores Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) commitment to open-source software development. Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, also noted in a blog post that the company's membership was a logical extension of its embrace of the Linux kernel and its release to the open source community of a growing list of tools and resources.

Microsoft also has joined the Eclipse Foundation launched by IBM (NYSE: IBM) in 2001 to promote an open platform for software development. Zemlin further noted that a Microsoft representative has recently served as president of the Apache Software Foundation.

"Open source has become a dominant force in software development—the de facto way to develop infrastructure software—as individuals and companies have realized that they can solve their own technology challenges and help others at the same time," Zemlin argued. "Membership is an important step for Microsoft, but it’s perhaps bigger news for the open source community, which will benefit from the company’s sustained contributions."

Critics have noted that the steady shift by large enterprises into open source development projects also represents a form of "enlightened self-interest," a view shared by several foundation members critical of what they claimed is Microsoft's growing influence.

Along with sweeping charges of "conflict of interest," critics of Microsoft's elevation to "platinum" status in the Linux Foundation warned, according to one angry reply to Zemlin's blog, "the first chance they [Microsoft] get to 'update' their code to lock users into Windows or lock Linux out they will do it without hesitation."

"I am really disappointed that The Linux Foundation accepted Microsoft as a member in the Linux ecosystem, especially considering its own mission to promote, protect and advance Linux," added another. Rather than expanding its membership to include established commercial vendors, the contributor said the group should be focused on "standardization, stable programming API's, more use of inherent safe programming languages and less fragmentation of developer effort."

In an email responding to the critical reaction to Microsoft's membership, Zemlim said: "Our philosophy at the Linux Foundation is that open source should be a big tent where anyone can contribute. There was a time where proprietary versus open source was a winner-take-all proposition, but that’s in the past.

"Open source is now a major force in software development, and the industry realizes you can make yourself better, while also making others better at the same time," Zemlin insisted. "Microsoft has been embracing open source increasingly for the better part of a decade, including contributing to and supporting many Linux Foundation projects, so their decision to take the next step and become a Linux Foundation member didn’t come as a surprise to us."

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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