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Insights / Blog / Inside AOE

Microsoft and Open Source: From Saul to Paul!

February 24, 2016
Alain VeuveAlain VeuveManaging Director, AOE Switzerland

Not too long ago Microsoft was considered to be the embodiment of evil regarding Open Source. And by the end of the Steve Ballmer era one couldn’t help but feel that Microsoft was being left behind completely. If we look at Microsoft today, we see a company whose business model is evolving and one that has aligned itself surprisingly well with the changing needs of its customers. And regarding Open Source, Microsoft has done an about-face and already made several products and technologies open to the public. A conversation with Andreas Urban, Open Source Lead in Germany.

Andreas, please briefly explain your role at Microsoft and what your work looks like in practice.

As Open Source Lead I have an overall view of the Open Source business of Microsoft Germany. Our goal is to support our customers in easily and efficiently running Open Source technologies on the Microsoft platform. Here, my responsibilities include promoting the use of Open Source technologies at Microsoft, communicating with Open Source communities as well as providing locally relevant Open Source solutions on the Microsoft Azure platform.

Microsoft has undergone significant change in the past few years. Such change in such a large company is no mean feat. How was the change initiated?

In my view the change occurred dynamically. I’ve had the opportunity to observe this journey for several years. The first milestones that I can remember were the announcement of the Microsoft OSS project hosting platform CodePlex in 2006, immediately followed by the recognition of two Microsoft Open Source licenses by the OSI in 2007. In July 2009 you could read headlines such as “pigs can fly” or “hell freezes over” – after Microsoft had contributed some 20,000 lines of code to the Linux Kernel. And finally, the journey culminated in the availability of Linux VMs on Microsoft Azure. You can see that we have been meeting the demands of our customers for Open Source technologies on the Microsoft platform step by step.

For many, Microsoft is still Steve Ballmer screaming “Developers, developers…” Slowly but surely this image is changing – is there a strategy in place in this regard?

When visiting customers or attending events I often note that the new openness of Microsoft elicits very good responses. A few years ago no one would have expected us to launch Office 2016 first for Mac, that we would support Linux so strongly or provide many of our repositories for others on GitHub. In the meantime, this is becoming increasingly matter-of-course. We will continue to implement and expand this strategy of openness.

What role does Open Source play in Microsoft’s overall strategy?

Today, supporting Open Source technologies as well as providing Microsoft source code, for example .NET Core, is an integral component of the Microsoft strategy. We are investing heavily in this area and are building up capacities both internally and externally with our partners. Cloud services such as HDInsight are our own implementations of Open Source projects where we give back continued developments to the community. OSS content management systems are available to our customers on Azure as Platform-as-a-Service offerings. This occurs by solution vendors providing their Open Source images on the Azure Marketplace. New partnerships with renowned Open Source vendors have a continuous impact, such as the recently announced cooperation with Red Hat. And there are numerous additional examples that illustrate the role of Open Source within the Microsoft cloud offerings.

What is the actual impact on the practical side? Which initiatives are you pursuing?

The initiatives in this area are diversified. We support communities with sponsorships and code contributions. Open Source developers can find various Open Source development kits for Azure or platform-spanning tools such as, for example, the x-plat Command Line Interface. This is a command line tool for Linux or Mac, written in JavaScript, that is installed with the Azure SDK for node.js and provides cross-platform commands and functions for managing cloud services or virtual machines. For our open Source partners, we have launched an OSS partner community, which provides closer access to our engineering teams. For our customers we offer workshops for Linux on Azure. The Open Source initiatives are as widespread as is the accessibility of Open Source technologies on Azure.

How do you view and segment the Microsoft community?

From my own Open Source perspective, I no longer segment. In-house cloud architects now often come from a Linux- and Open Source environment. External Microsoft community members, such as MVPs or Student Partners, publish blog posts about OSS technologies on Azure, Microsoft Gold Partners enjoy partner status with Linux vendors. Traditional segmentation is becoming increasingly blurred in the cloud environment.

In the meantime, Microsoft has achieved a certain level of credibility in the Open Source arena. Which doors does this open?

Today, we are cooperating more and more with customers, partners and communities that weren’t even on our radar screens before. One example for this are digital agencies. With Open Source on Azure, but also with services such as Azure Media Services, we can offer agencies attractive and familiar technologies as highly-scalable and secure services to help the agencies be successful in their business. Combined with co-selling activities, doors are opening for both sides.

Where do you see Microsoft regarding Open Source in three years?

The joint journey will continue. If I consider the rapid growth of the public cloud market, the key role of Open Source in this area and the ever-shorter product- and innovation cycles I am very curious as to whether we will even differentiate anymore in this regard in three years.

Thank you very much, Andreas, for your time.