From vs. to + for Microsoft and Linux

Changing corporate culture to adapt to open source development methods is not easy. Dan Frye, who runs IBM's Linux development program, recently told me that IBM has worked hard to make its internal development efforts coordinate smoothly with Linux's. That way, when IBM "scratches its itches", the kernel patches that result have a high likelihood of acceptance. IBM has faith that its accepted patches are ones that are most likely to work for everybody and not just for IBM. This is a natural and positive way for infrastructure to grow.

And grow it has. The selection of commodity open source building materials is now so complete that most businesses have no choice but to use those components—or, in many cases, to recognize that IT personnel in their enterprises have been building their own open source "solutions" for some time.

That realization can come as a shock. Open source infrastructure inside companies often (perhaps usually—it's hard to tell) gets built without IT brass knowing about it. In many cases, internal open source development and use has had conditional approval by CIOs and CTOs. Whatever the course of open source growth, at a certain point a threshold is crossed, and companies suddenly know that open source is no longer the exception, but the rule.

Now we find ourselves living in a time of extreme dependence on the commerce layer, living like serfs in the feudal castles of Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon: a combined entity commonly called GAFA in Europe. Microsoft wouldn't mind having an M in that acronym, I suppose. Is that what joining the Linux Foundation is about?

Or is Microsoft finally taking the advice I gave here two years ago, in a column titled "A Cool Project for Microsoft: Adopt Linux". There I wrote this:

Today the reality of Linux is of a piece with the reality of the Internet. Neither is going away. Both are co-evolving in the minds of every geek adding value to them. Both transcend the interests of every company contributing to them, including Google. If Satya Nadella looks at reality with the same clear eyes Bill Gates cast on the Internet in 1995, he might see the wisdom of embracing Linux with the same enthusiasm and commitment.

How would Microsoft do that, exactly? It could start by joining the Linux Foundation....

Mother Jones' original tagline was "You trust your mother. But you cut the cards." That may be the best attitude for the Linux Foundation to have toward Microsoft. In "Microsoft and Linux Patents and Tweets" Simon Phipps has two excellent recommendations I'll leave us with here:

What could Microsoft and the Linux Foundation do?

  • The Linux Foundation should include in its membership agreement a good-faith commitment not to initiate any patent litigation relating to the Linux platform against anyone and exclude those who break it. A trade association should not permit its members to fight among themselves.

  • Microsoft should declare that no part of the company will in future initiate software patent claims against the Linux platform and as a sign of its good faith join the Open Invention Network. That's not of itself magical—Oracle and Google are both OIN members and still litigating Android patents—but the combination of gestures could make a tremendous difference to community trust.

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Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal