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Article from Issue 225/2019
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Microsoft just announced that its built-in Linux kernel is available for testing. The Linux kernel that will be integrated with Windows 10 is tuned to work with the Windows Subsystem for Linux compatibility suite. Predictably, a new round of alarms went up around the Linux community – just as they did when Microsoft announced that they would soon be shipping this new Linux back in May. Microsoft distributing Linux? Is this a trick or some kind of nefarious subterfuge? Weren't they the ones who said Linux is a cancer?

Dear Reader,

Microsoft just announced that its built-in Linux kernel is available for testing. The Linux kernel that will be integrated with Windows 10 is tuned to work with the Windows Subsystem for Linux compatibility suite. Predictably, a new round of alarms went up around the Linux community – just as they did when Microsoft announced that they would soon be shipping this new Linux back in May. Microsoft distributing Linux? Is this a trick or some kind of nefarious subterfuge? Weren't they the ones who said Linux is a cancer?

The company now says they are quite friendly and happy with Linux, but their past behavior was so outrageous that many who remember the bad old days are still a bit spooked by their change of heart.

Microsoft used to prowl the headlines with a very intimidating aura of invincibility. The popular notion was that, whenever they wanted something, they got it. Starting with taking down IBM for dominance in the PC space, through the browser wars, through the office software wars, and on into countless other skirmishes, the Redmond raiders were known for using the power of their market position to overwhelm and destroy opposition, conjuring up comparisons with the Star Trek Borg and their menacing motto "resistance is futile." This image of indomitability was a tool in their arsenal that played quite well with users, venture capitalists, and government regulators and became a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, which made matters worse.

When they declared Linux was their enemy, it was all very freaky for a while as they played through their various monopolistic power tricks, such as false information, lawsuits, and half-baked "patent indemnity" gambits. Many are wondering if they have truly given up on all the funny business.

But does it even matter anymore? Even if you don't trust that Microsoft has changed, you would have to agree that whatever it is they were trying to do back then doesn't seem to be working very well anymore.

Microsoft's recent record as a monopolist isn't exactly flattering. In fact, the whole reason they are working with Linux now is because their grand design to destroy Linux totally failed. Their grand plan to shoehorn themselves into the mobile phone space didn't just fail but failed spectacularly.

Microsoft is a player in today's web economy, but they are not even the biggest or most intimidating player. Their Bing search engine is a very distant number two in search engines with around 10 percent of the market share. Their Azure cloud appears stable but isn't exactly knocking down all the top competitors. (By the way, Azure is populated with lots of Linux systems at this point.)

I'm not sure you could say Microsoft has actually reformed in some cosmic sense, but I think the people who are afraid of them co-opting and subjugating Linux are giving them way too much credit.

Microsoft is not a power player in the Linux space, because, well, they don't want to be – and they won't want to be until they finally give up on selling Windows. And the tools they have used for control in the past (marketing hype, intellectual property threats) are not especially effective in the Linux community.

They'll hang around for a while. Maybe they will fit in and stay, or maybe they will get voted off the island. Somehow I don't see them as the last one standing.

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