Microsoft on 'wrong side of history' with open source, president Brad Smith says

Microsoft logo at Ignite
Microsoft logo at Ignite (Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft president Brad Smith says Microsoft was "on the wrong side of history when open source exploded."
  • Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called Linux a "cancer" in 2001.
  • Microsoft has embraced open source increasingly over the last few years.

Microsoft president Brad Smith recently shared his thoughts on open source and how Microsoft approached it at the turn of the century. Speaking at an MIT event, Smith stated that "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 has been with Microsoft for 25 years and The Verge points out that he has been part of several legal battles surrounding open source software as one of Microsoft's senior lawyers. Now, Smith has a different view.

The Microsoft president added that "The good news is that, if life is long enough, you can learn … that you need to change." Smith isn't alone in his feelings about open-source software. Microsoft has embraced the concept increasingly over the last few years. PowerShell, Visual Studio Code, and the original Microsoft Edge's JavaScript engine are all open-sourced. The Windows Subsystem for Linux not only exists, but it integrates more with Windows 10 now more than ever. Microsoft also purchased GitHub and acquired Xamarin, both popular open-source technology.

These moves are a stark contrast to when former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said Linux is "a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches." Now, Microsoft has a browser based on the open-source Chromium engine and is active in several open source communities.

Sean Endicott
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Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at (opens in new tab).

  • Be it as it may... Microsoft is still here to talk about it and a lot of those, who were on the "right (left?) side of history" aren't... and, even those who are, figured which side is greener by now.
  • Who? the leaders of that movement, are not only still around, they thrive. Ubuntu went from being obscure in early 2000s to being THE dominant open source distro of linux, it's even hosted in Azure, and supported in Visual Studio. Google also swallowed up most of this talent through the Android Open Source project. Grub is still the biggest open source graphic editor out there, There's open source consumer software for just about anything....OBS...Videolan. There may not big a single entity here as big as MS, but they won the argument on value
  • > Who? Sun, MySQL, BSDi... I am talking about companies, not pieces of software... > Grub is still the biggest open source graphic editor out there I can make two safe assumptions from this statement:
    1) You meant to write GIMP
    2) You have never used it
  • More importantly, .NET Core is all open source.
  • I'd like to hear what MS now thinks is the proper dividing line between open source and protecting the intellectual property rights of the developers. On our team, we both use and contribute to open source software, but we also have proprietary and patented algorithms and code. If our competitors could just use our proprietary software, that would be highly destructive to our business after we have sunk years of effort and R&D and dollars into building our systems.
    I think for many, there’s an “everything should be free” attitude to software, which can prevent rational discussion on what is appropriate to open source and what should be kept internal to development organizations.