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Microsoft is a radically different enterprise since Satya Nadella took control of the helm. In just a short amount of time, it has transformed itself from a stuffy corporate behemoth that dominated the PC space in the ’90s, to a company that makes products that excite people.

Microsoft has also radically changed their corporate culture. Once insular and secretive, the company is now releasing their crown jewels under open source licenses. The most prominent of which is the .NET framework A GNU Beginning For Microsoft: What An Open Source .NET Framework Means For The Rest Of Us A GNU Beginning For Microsoft: What An Open Source .NET Framework Means For The Rest Of Us Microsoft just released a significant part of its code under a permissive open source license. This move breaks with years of tradition. But why and what does it mean for you? Read More , although more recently Microsoft released Visual Studio Code under the MIT License, and published the source to Github.

But why should you care? You’re not a coder. You’ve got no interest in delving into mountains and mountains of C++ code, just to see how things work. That’s the great thing about Windows – you don’t need to be technically-minded to get the most out of it.

But these behind-the-scenes changes are really important, and promise to have a real impact on how you use your computer, so pay attention.

Less Abandoned Software

Microsoft, on any given year, launches hundreds of products. Some, from the very beginning, have a mass-market appeal and become roaring successes. Others, less so, but they do manage to develop a niche following.

Eventually, they get discontinued. Microsoft Money was a great example of this. It was a precursor to Mint, and allowed you to keep track of your finances, and it had a small cadre of users who swore by it. It was one of their oldest products too, first launched in 1991, it was finally discontinued in 2009, after almost two decades of loyal money saving service.

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Money

Now that Microsoft is finally open to releasing the source code to their products under permissive licenses, it stands to reason it will eventually start open-sourcing products it no longer intends to pursue commercially, much like ID Software has done with many of its games, like Quake 3 and Doom.

Which means that when something gets killed by Microsoft, the community will be ready and able to pick up the slack, should they want to.

Great Ideas, Shared Publicly

You probably didn’t know this, but while Microsoft was toiling away on Windows 8 and Windows 10, a secret 100-person team in Redmond was working away at another operating system called Midori. Few people outside of Microsoft have ever seen it, but from what’s been publicly disclosed, it looks incredible.

You see, the Windows you’re likely reading this article on has a long history, and has inherited a lot of code and design decisions from the very first versions of Windows. Some of those design decisions made sense at the time, but in light of a new computing landscape with new security threats and increasingly powerful systems, look somewhat dated.

Code

Midori was a fresh start. It could run applications that were distributed across multiple nodes. It sandboxed applications What's A Sandbox, And Why Should You Be Playing in One What's A Sandbox, And Why Should You Be Playing in One Highly-connective programs can do a lot, but they're also an open invitation for bad hackers to strike. To prevent strikes from becoming successful, a developer would have to spot and close every single hole in... Read More (like Android does) in order to increase security. More importantly, it would be faster and more stable, as essential parts of the system – like the kernel, device drivers, and applications — would be written in something called “managed code”.

It would have been incredible.

Unfortunately, it appears the project has come to an untimely end, with staffers either being laid off, or reassigned within the company. Microsoft has said that it intends to use some of the concepts from Midori in later versions of Windows.

Some of those who were laid off have since blogged about their experiences and reflections on the Midori project. One of the more interesting points made by former Midori developer Joe Duffy was that it would have been better if it was open-sourced from the very beginning.

“My biggest regret is that we didn’t OSS it from the start, where the meritocracy of the Internet could judge its pieces appropriately. As with all big corporations, decisions around the destiny of Midori’s core technology weren’t entirely technology-driven, and sadly, not even entirely business-driven”

Perhaps this intriguing experiment in operating system design might not have been a failure, if the general public was able to evaluate and assess the merits of Midori, and offer feedback. While the past certainly can’t be changed, the future looks bright for Microsoft, which has never really been all that shy when it comes to showing what it’s working on.

Collaborative Coding Makes Better Software

Look at the Github page of any major open-source software product – be that WordPress, the Linux kernel, or even Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code – and you’ll find an issues page. This documents the various problems that have been found in a program, and are submitted by both developers and users alike.

IssueTracker

That’s the great thing about open source software. What was once only available to a handful of developers is now seen by a larger audience, who are able to identify, explain, and help resolve problems.

Now, imagine if you could do that in a major piece of commercial software. With Microsoft gradually open-sourcing select parts of its software repertoire, this is now a reality.

 (Potentially) Perpetual Support

This goes back to the earlier point about abandonware. Microsoft choosing to open-source some of its software catalog suggests (but by no way guarantees) that there’s the potential for certain software packages having their life cycle extended.

From Microsoft Money, to the seemingly immortal Windows XP Why Windows XP Won't Be Going Away Anytime Soon Why Windows XP Won't Be Going Away Anytime Soon People cannot let go of Windows XP. In businesses and homes the world over, it will stick around. We spoke with three Windows XP users from different generations and backgrounds to find out why. Read More ; when Microsoft kills something, people get upset. Open-sourcing these vital pieces of software means that there’s a chance the community can take over, and patches and updates will continue to be offered, provided there’s still the interest.

WindowsXP

For businesses still stuck using older versions of Microsoft software due to legacy concerns, they’d be able to either self-support their own software, or pay a third-party to do so. That’s really exciting.

Learn from the Best

This one will undoubtedly be controversial (feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments), but here goes. I think Microsoft choosing to open-source its code will be a boon for people who are learning to code.

I came to this conclusion after speaking to multiple people about how they learned to code in the 1980s, before Stack Overflow, Code Completion, and Reddit were things. For the most part, they took code that somebody had already written, and they modified it. Through trial-and-error, they took someone else’s work, and made it their own. They’d spend hours hacking away on their BBC Micros and Spectrums, just to change what an object looked like, or to add to a game they owned.

BASIC

Microsoft choosing to publish their code on Github would take that concept, and apply it to the 21st century. People could learn to code by modifying programs they use on a daily basis. How cool is that?

Open Source, and Open

You probably aren’t a coder. That’s fine. Most people aren’t. But you should care about Microsoft choosing to open-source more and more of its code because it indirectly impacts your digital life.

It also emphasizes how Microsoft is becoming a more open company; from its Windows 10 Insider Preview program Be the First to Test New Windows 10 Builds as Windows Insider Be the First to Test New Windows 10 Builds as Windows Insider Windows Insiders are the first to test new Windows 10 builds. They are also the first to suffer from bugs. Here we show you how to join or leave the program and how to share... Read More , where users can test new features as they’re built; to its adoption of Github; to even its decision to allow iOS and Android apps to run on Windows 10 Want Your Favorite Android & iOS Apps to Run on Windows 10? Want Your Favorite Android & iOS Apps to Run on Windows 10? Microsoft has an app problem. And their solution could let you run Android and iOS apps on your Windows desktop. Your turn! Encourage developers to port apps to Windows with Project Astoria or Islandwood. Read More .

Moreover, they’re seemingly happy for Microsoft’s software to run on competing platforms. For example, Android now has a version of Microsoft Office, while Linux has both the .NET framework A GNU Beginning For Microsoft: What An Open Source .NET Framework Means For The Rest Of Us A GNU Beginning For Microsoft: What An Open Source .NET Framework Means For The Rest Of Us Microsoft just released a significant part of its code under a permissive open source license. This move breaks with years of tradition. But why and what does it mean for you? Read More , and Visual Studio Code. The former piece of software has the potential to lead to even more cross-platform software, as developers can write code once, and run it on the .NET framework across Linux, OS X, and Windows.

Are there any other awesome upsides to Microsoft embracing the Open Source movement? Tell me in the comments below.  

Photo Credits: Windows XP (Rob DiCaterino), A Piece of Code (Timitrius)

  1. Steve Stites
    December 14, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    "But why should you care? "

    I don't care except that this Microsoft open source campaign is another nuisance in the decades long string of nuisances aimed by Microsoft at the open source community.

    -------------------------
    Steve Stites

    • Matthew Hughes
      December 31, 2015 at 1:39 pm

      Or, maybe they've changed. Microsoft IS a different company now that "Monkey Boy" Balmer is out of the building.

  2. Gary snr
    December 13, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    It shouldn't matter what is we run all apps should be open source to everyone people pick their OS to suit themselves Microsoft's move to eco system is a great move and developers should make their apps available to every system,personal choice is personal choice that goes for everything in life.

    • Matthew Hughes
      December 31, 2015 at 1:39 pm

      Agreed 100%

  3. Eddie G.
    December 6, 2015 at 7:59 am

    For those who have been burned by MS before, there's really no reason to celebrate. The best way to get the donkey to move is to dangle a carrot in front of it without ever really GIVING the carrot to the donkey. The open sources stuff they're granting access to? Is the carrot, and when they reach their destination, the carrot mysteriously goes away. For decades there's been the "war' of the worlds between Microsoft and Open Source Software, and now that MS has decided to offer a little bit of something people are calling them "equals"?...or hugging them with open arms?

    Let's not forget we're talking about MS who sues just about everyone regarding patents and licences. Just watch where you all step when you deal with snakes such as these!

    • Matthew Hughes
      December 10, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      Serious question: Have they continued to act in an underhand way since Nadella became CEO?

      Can't we just accept it's a different era for Microsoft?

  4. fcd76218
    December 5, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    When Microsoft releases their current O/S as Open Source (like Linux or BSD do), then we'll have something to celebrate. While it may be a start, Microsoft is not doing this out of altruism. The leopard is not changing its spots. Instead of paying their software developers to come up with new ideas, M$ is planning to get them for free from the user community.

    • Matthew Hughes
      December 10, 2015 at 1:26 pm

      I'm not sure I agree. Microsoft has radically changed in the past few years, as has the computing landscape as a whole. There's a compelling business reason for them to work with other platforms now, which didn't really exist before.

  5. Joe Consultant
    December 4, 2015 at 8:14 am

    Let's not get carried away. Only the tip of the iceberg has been open sourced so far.

    Historically, M$ has only given ground when forced to. The pressures that the open source world exerts on them are real. It's still early, but whole government bodies have switched to LibreOffice on the desktop, some going all the way to Linux. And we won't even mention the server market and many other factors.

    This may in fact be something good, but let's wait a bit before getting too excited, or, especially, before attributing noble motives to them.

    • Matthew Hughes
      December 10, 2015 at 1:20 pm

      I don't think anyone's "forced" Microsoft to open source anything. They're Microsoft! They've done it because it represents the best business decision for them. Period.

  6. Colonel Angus
    December 3, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    Any time proprietary software is made OSS, it's a good thing for the open source community. In turn, it's a good thing for software users at large. The main problem with OSS is that many people see free software as being inferior to a paid product that allows them to perform the same basic function. Perhaps one of the ultimate benefits to Microsoft releasing the code to some of their dead products would be to help change that perception. If someone with reservations about free or open source products sees a program forked from Microsoft Money, they might be more inclined to give it a try.

    • Matthew Hughes
      December 10, 2015 at 1:24 pm

      That's a really good point!

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