Dear Microsoft, help me like you

The years after Ballmer’s exit from Microsoft brought big changes, and many of them.

  • .NET’s core became open source under a widely known permissive license. Previous FOSS efforts from Microsoft didn’t do so well in picking licenses. But now it’s all on GitHub, not on some marginal platform, but on everybody’s darling.
  • MS absorbed Xamarin, perhaps making mobile .NET development less of a pain. I don’t know if it had been painful at all, I hear Xamarin’s tools were pretty good on their own, but with Microsoft’s gloved and lubed hand deep inside the monkey, Xamarin may extract more joy from it.
  • Docker now (or soon) runs on Windows, natively using Hyper-V.
  • Node.js runs on Windows, natively.
  • Chakra (the JavaScript engine) has become open source and cross-platform. It will soon be available inside Node.js.
  • ASP.NET is open source.
  • F# is open source.
  • TypeScript is open source.
  • PowerShell is quite probably going open source.
  • Visual Studio Code came out, and is open source.
  • Canonical has ported their Ubuntu userland to the Win32 API.
  • Microsoft is going into containers and small footprint servers with Nano Server.
  • Microsoft absorbed Mojang and thus Minecraft. Perhaps to lure the younger generation towards Microsoft products, perhaps also because they can make cool toys like Hololens and stack them on something that already has an established community.
  • MS dropped XNA instead of open sourcing it, but Monogame came to the rescue, and now that we’re all part of the touchy-feely FOSS crowd, we’ll forgive them that move.

But there have been some dark chapters as well:

  • The aggressive move into mobile was a huge expensive flop and many Nokians lost their jobs. Some of them lost their jobs twice. Nokia might not have survived on their own either, but it’s still sad to see such engineering talent wasted. Windows 10 on mobile wasn’t even the worst mobile OS, the hardware not the worst hardware. They had a serious head start with camera quality for a while, for example. Such a sad mess.
  • Almost forcing people to upgrade to Windows 10, even if they don’t want to, is scaring folks away from Windows and has probably done more for the uptake of Linux on the desktop than anything else that’s happened in the last five years.
  • As an aside, the nag screen/downloader for the Windows 10 update is called “GWX”. In German, that almost reads like “Gewichs”. And that means wankery. Wankery indeed, friends!
  • Cortana forcefully being enabled on all Windows 10 installs except those used by school children (in the Education Edition) is downright frightening. If you use Chrome on Windows 10, you will have both Cortana and Google listen in on you. One of them can no longer be disabled. Wheee.
  • Arbitrary changes in pricing, for example a price increase for certain group policies to be unlocked for Windows 10 after the Anniversary Upgrade, shows how much power proprietary software makers still have over their hostages. Err, customers. In future, only users paying for the Enterprise Edition (which needs a service subscription as well) will have access to all group policies. And you need these group policies to turn off some of the more intrusive “features” of Windows 10. Maybe they’ll reconsider after all the bad press they’re getting.
  • Microsoft is urging everyone to come onboard of their hosted services, like Office 365 and Outlook.com, but it seems the software just isn’t ready yet, it’s crashy and broken even after years of investment. Their Azure cloud is being very aggressively marketed (ever been to an airport that doesn’t have ads for Azure?), yet Microsoft manages to have storage go down worldwide because of an expired SSL certificate. And that’s not the only large outage they had.

I know I’ve been writing about MS too much recently, but they’ve caught my eye again because some parts of them have stopped behaving like total cunts. Yet other elements are still as sociopathic and dumb as before.

I don’t want to think too deeply about the motives behind the cool stuff, because maybe they’re just trying to stay relevant by quickly adopting hipster tech like Node.js and Docker in a sort of “look here! We can do that too! Not just on Linux!” moment. Maybe they are earnestly interested in collaborating with the FOSS community. From the licenses and the distribution platforms they chose, that could be possible.

It’s not all hugs and kisses yet. But I believe that if the company did more of the cool things and fewer of the uncool things, I might start to like them. I enjoy competition in software, and competition can also be had on a broadly cooperative stage, on a level playing field: in FOSS. We see this with all the Linux distros, we see this with all the BSDs.

Had Microsoft way back when donated code to the Samba project instead of working against them for years, had they done .NET as FOSS from the start, history would look different. Maybe they could even have absorbed much of Java’s current brainshare. Had they not actively subverted an international standardization process by stacking the votes in favor of their MS-OOXML file formats, had we all standardized on OpenDocument, everything would be changed. But that was the old Microsoft, Ballmer’s Microsoft, the one that was 100% penis face.

The stage is now set. FOSS and proprietary companies have rarely before been at such a good point for cooperation and healthy instead of destructive competition. I hope Microsoft takes the right path now that they’ve tasted blood.

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