How Azure became the place for open source in the cloud

Microsoft has truly embraced open source, in a radical shift rare for a big company—and developers should be very happy

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Microsoft is perhaps the most impressive company on the planet right now. While it doesn’t (currently) dominate markets like it used to, Microsoft has managed something dramatically more difficult, something that portends future success as a platform behemoth: profound cultural change.

Microsoft recently announced that it is effectively open-sourcing its 60,000-plus patent portfolio by joining the Open Invention Network. It claims this move will “help protect Linux and open source.”

Yes, Microsoft is now putting the full weight of its intellectual property to protect the things it used to call “anti-American” and “a cancer.” Why? Because Microsoft has changed. And why? Because Microsoft is a platform company, and platform companies must embrace open innovation to survive. Microsoft is smart enough under its current leadership to understand that.

Microsoft’s journey: I love you, you’re perfect, now change

Microsoft’s ambition to be the world’s largest platform company hasn’t changed, but the rules for being a successful platform vendor have. Completely. Eons ago, when Microsoft controlled desktop computing, the company could get away with slagging off open source. At the time, open source was still new, and its successes largely confined to the server. More important, vendors still controlled what enterprises used in their data centers, and no one did that better than Microsoft.

Slowly but surely, however, the “everyone but Microsoft” crowd started to collaborate on open source projects like Linux, fostering new platforms for innovation from which Microsoft’s anti-open-source stance locked it out. In the last five years, this move to open source has accelerated to such a degree that Cloudera cofounder Mike Olson could boldly (and truthfully) declare, “No dominant platform-level software infrastructure has emerged in the last ten years in closed-source, proprietary form.”

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