In 2001 Microsoft’s then CEO Steve Ballmer described Linux, and by extension open source in general, as “a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.” Fast forward to 2020, and Microsoft’s current president Brad Smith has admitted the company was wrong.
He said as much during an MIT presentation earlier this week (via The Register). “Microsoft was on the wrong side of history when open source exploded at the beginning of the century and I can say that about me personally,” Smith said. “The good news is that, if life is long enough, you can learn… that you need to change.”
It’s understandable that turn of the century Microsoft might hold some antipathy towards open source: a software company can’t be blamed for worrying about free (and great) alternatives to the programs it charges for. But even Steve Ballmer changed his tune on open source back in 2016, though he maintained that the fight was worth waging.
Smith’s comments aren’t a huge surprise given the unstoppable rise of the open source movement, which continues to flourish today. That said, 2001 Ballmer might have been horrified at the news that Windows 10’s File Explorer now features easy Linux file integration. The possibility of an open source Windows 10 was even floated back in 2015. Microsoft acquired GitHub for $7.5 billion in 2018, and the company’s latest version of Windows Edge even adopts code from the open source Chromium project.