Evolution of Free and Open Source at Microsoft

I just finished watching Microsoft's 2014 //build/ Conference's Day 1 Keynote. As expected there were a lot of announcements, not all of them surprises. But there were two anouncements that I found particularly interesting. IMHO, these two announcements exemplify just how far Microsoft has come since it released its first Open Source project almost exactly 10 years ago.

First, think back ten years ago. Microsoft was generally considered the one and only "Evil Empire" of the computing world. Microsoft was often held as the complete antithesis to Open Source Software. Microsoft was out to crush everything in its path and would never change.

Then, 4 days after April Fool's Day in 2004, Microsoft did the unthinkable. Microsoft released the WiX Toolset as it's first Open Source project. I'd argue that was the turning point in Microsoft's approach to Open Source and set Microsoft on its current path.

Today, at //build/ Microsoft announced it open sourced WinJS. This makes sense on pretty much every front. Every other Javascript framework of note releases as Open Source and enjoys a community of developers that improve, discuss and fight over the merits of their platform of choice. WinJS was essentially irrelevant to Javascript developers. I'd argue that WinJS should have been released as Open Source from the beginning.

The fact that WinJS wasn't available as Open Source before but is now demonstrates the continued evolution of Open Source at Microsoft. I am not one who believes Microsoft will ever release the source code to Windows or Office (nor do I believe much would change much if they did). But Microsoft is clearly still learning and growing. It makes me incredibly happy to see how far they've progressed since the dark days of 2003.

But while WinJS wasn't all that surprising an announcement, what followed completely caught me off guard. Windows would become available for certain uses for $0. Free Windows? Free Windows!

You can actually see my shock in my tweets during the keynote. My first tweet on the topic was:

Then a few minutes later:


Now there are limitations (only tablets under 9" and "Internet of Things", whatever that ends up meaning) but the simple fact that Microsoft is really doing Windows for free is a huge shift. Of course, they were forced into this position by Google's Android. Proves, once again, that competition is a wonderful thing.

Once I got over the shock, the announcement made me wonder if we will finally have a case study that can separate the benefits of "Open Source Software" (Android) from "Free Software" (Windows). In other words, is it really the availability of the source code that makes Open Source Software special or is it the fact that Open Source Software is typically free (as in free like a puppy) that makes it popular?

The data will not be clean. For example, I've heard claims that Android isn't really a good Open Source project (too controlled by Google). Also, Windows will only be free for some limited set of devices so a company might still pick up Android to have a consistent software solution for their 5" phones through their 12" tablets (or whatever). Even with those caveats, I'm hopeful someone will study the situation in a few years and we can learn more about the computing phenomenon that is Open Source Software.

Today was truly a fascinating day in the evolution of Free and Open Source at Microsoft. In the meantime, keep coding. You know I am!

FireGiant provides dedicated support for the WiX toolset. Ever wish you could get your WiX questions answered immediately with the technical detail that you find in the blog posts here? You can with FireGiant!

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