Open source software started as the hippie alternative to Unix and C++. It was for bearded guys working in their basements.
Things have changed. Facebook, Google and Amazon wouldn’t exist without open source software. Ditto for every application on your smartphone. Yet 20 years ago Microsoft waged a war against Linux and open source software in general. This is relevant now because the Open Source Initiative 20th anniversary is February. And it’s very hard to imagine where we’d be today without open source.
A Microsoft executive publicly stated in 2001 that “open source is an intellectual property destroyer. I can’t imagine something that could be worse than this for the software business and the intellectual-property business.”
Microsoft spread FUD that open source will cost companies more in software support than they would pay with shrink wrapped software from Redmond.
Microsoft’s concerns were a proxy for the larger enterprise IT industry, which cast a skeptical eye on the wild west of open source. It took decades for meaningful enterprise adoption, even though Linux is free.
Many developers also resisted a world where software is given away for free. Why would any developer build something and give it away for free? Where’s the financial incentive?
And then along came Google. Google showed that the financial incentive isn’t in the code but in the product. Today there are hundreds of thousands of companies and projects founded on open source. Open source has helped create trillions of dollars of market value by giving developers more tools, more collaboration at little to no cost.
Microsoft may have lost the open source war, but it’s fully engaged in the next war. If the open source model repeats itself with commodity cloud services, Microsoft may win that market and will have to thank open source for making the market viable.