Microsoft admits it was wrong about open source

President Brad Smith says the company was on "the wrong side of history" at the start of the century

Microsoft has admitted it was wrong about open source at the start of the century when it was locked in a fierce battle with Linux.

Speaking at a recent MIT event, the tech giant's president Brad Smith said the company was on the "wrong side" of history "when open source exploded at the beginning of the century.”

In 2001, Steve Ballmer, then Microsoft CEO, described Linux, and open source in general, as "a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches".

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The company has changed its stance. Ballmer made slightly softer statements in 2016, suggesting that it was the right position to take at the time, but Smith's confession is a rare admission from one of its senior executives. 

"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."

Microsoft is now the single largest contributor to open source projects in the world. Over the last few years, Microsoft has gradually adopted a number of open source technologies, such as PowerShell, Visual Studio Code and Microsoft Edge's original JavaScript engine. The company's latest version of Edge even adopts code from the open source Chromium project.

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The tech giant has acquired Xamarin for mobile app development and also partnered with Canonical, bringing Ubuntu to Windows 10. It's continuing to collaborate with open source communities to create PowerToys for Windows 10, which includes its new open design philosophy. As for Linux, the company is shipping a full Linux Kernel in its Windows 10 May 2020 Update, due later this month. 

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Its acquisition of GitHub for $7.5 billion in 2018 is arguably its biggest open source venture to date. 

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