Perhaps the biggest surprise in the technology world, recently Mark Russinovich, Microsoft technical fellow and Azure CTO proclaimed Microsoft releasing Windows as open source is not impossible. For a very long time, Microsoft has always distanced itself from the open source market. But undeniably, almost all company depends on some or the other open source software and we can’t see why Microsoft cannot join the bandwagon.
History of Microsoft open-sourcing
Microsoft have always had its way to profit from both developer’s satisfaction and their exclusivity, albeit a little cagily. Take an example: Trident, the rendering engine In IE of Windows 10 is the only one in the open source crowd of Gecko, WebKit and Bling who has stayed away from joining the team. Till now, they gave Adobe, the major contributor to open source rendering engines, an access to EdgeHTML code to allow further development. But if you see carefully, they have given the rights to an exclusive web entity rather than to every individual, which doesn’t make EdgeHTML a complete open source. Another example, the most popular one till date, is open sourcing .NET. Microsoft has been blowing its trumpets of open sourcing of the .NET runtime. But most of us had missed their condition: It hasn’t open-sourced the WHOLE of .NET. Very cleverly, it has open-sourced the .NET server stack and began porting the runtime itself to Mac and Linux. So in layman’s words what it did was: “You can build a .NET app then decide if you want to run it on a Linux server or on Windows server,” as said by Microsoft’s S. Somasegar. The reason why it hasn’t, and probably won’t, open-source the client-side is that it will allow companies to transfer old .NET businesses from Windows to other platforms. This will definitely get Microsoft’s business model tumbling down the hill, which of course won’t benefit them in any way.
What about Windows?
Anyways, even after its notorious history the disobedient boy decides to do something phenomenal: Let’s say Microsoft open-sources the Windows OS. On the positive side, there will be an expansion of the use of OS. Open-source codes are easier to test, modify and build into other similar versions, and Microsoft can boast of a larger pool of users and applications that run on Windows. Even if the code will be free, the distribution, packaging and all other activities cannot be, so Microsoft still stands to earn revenues from these processes through vendors. But even after so many benefits, it cannot be denied that the revenue earned by selling the close-sourced OS will remain unmatched. The worst can be other companies profiting from bringing in their own versions based upon Windows: just like Amazon’s Fire OS based on Android system. Since modifications are legal, developers can build their own versions of OS and sell it or make it freely downloadable without profiting Microsoft. And literally it won’t be selling Windows, just supporting the contracts for above mentioned processes of distribution and packaging. You tell this to a tech giant like this company, and a definite displeasure will ripple across its fraternity.
Microsoft, whose former CEO Steve Ballmer famously described Linux as a ‘cancer’ in 2001, has gone through a transition where the current CEO Satya Nadella says “Microsoft loves Linux”. Its attitude and opinions regarding open-source has undergone a change, even if it still draws line to its extent for profitability. So we can expect that Windows will become an open-source one day, but the day is in distant future. Right now, the only part to be happy about is that at last Microsoft opened to the ideology that open-sourcing is a necessity for the future of coding and development.