Open source software and mega-vendors

4 min read

by Kristian Heim

In June 2001 the statement “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches” was made by Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft at the time. Open source software was for many of the large commercial software companies seen as a threat and the impact of the open source licensing was not always clear. The emergence of Linux was for many considered the start and symbol of the open source software movement, and for years open source versus mega-vendors was considered a David and Goliath battle.


Today the situation is very different .Unlike the David and Goliath from the Book of Samuel, the David in our story did not beat Goliath, but rather they became best friends and decided to work together for the greater good.. 15 years after Steve Ballmer’s statement Microsoft joined the Linux foundation and last month the first operating system, Azure Sphere, based on Linux was released by Microsoft.

The emergence of the public cloud computing has fueled this development. It is changing how software and services are developed, delivered and consumed and the economics of it all. It allows for individuals or small companies to have access to the same capabilities historically reserved for larger enterprises. Everything from basic virtual machines to data-lakes, high performance computing, machine learning and cognitive analytics services are available with only a few clicks without investments in any infrastructure. Many of these services are based on or integrates with open-source software. The power of the cloud provides both developers of software and the users an engine to scale in a way that was previously not possible.

The mega-vendors Microsoft and Google are now by far the largest contributors to open source projects on GitHub,and we are seeing a large degree of merging of open source software combined with mega-vendor services and platforms. In many cases this has also opened for much more collaboration between competing companies. One such example is ONNX – the open source representation for AI models, a partnership between Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and others.

Currently the project with most contributors on GitHub is Microsoft/VSCode, an open source code development editor which is both cross- platform (Windows, Mac, Linux) and supports a variety of programming languages.


There are many other examples of such happy companionship, and one of these is Kubernetes. You find the best definition of Kubernetes on their webpage: “Kubernetes is an open-source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications.” A container is a way to package everything you need to run a piece of software reliably across computing environments, and greatly simplifies delivery and execution of software. The Kubernetes project originated at Google and came from years of experience building their own platforms. It is now used in vendor solutions from companies like Red Hat, Oracle, IBM, Pivotal to mention some. And to underline my point about the changing landscape, Microsoft now also supports use of the Kubernetes for container orchestration in their public cloud.

Another open source project that we can use as an example is Hadoop. Hadoop is a framework used to process and analyze large datasets by running tasks in parallel across a cluster of computers. It splits up the dataset to be analyzed and distributes it across a collection of computers for parallel processing of the data by applying a model called MapReduce. Originally a model used by search engines but are now applied to analyze everything from micro- processes to human behavior. What had its roots as open-source software on commodity hardware is now a service available as public cloud offerings, no longer requiring the, often large, investment in hardware and software.

They say that a picture is worth more than a thousand words and I think the relationship between mega-vendors and open source is well described by the picture on the right. This is an example of some of the Microsoft open source integrations and support. In order to build open platforms, the support for a variety of tools, applications and frameworks is key.

The discussion of open source versus mega vendors is no longer as relevant as it used to be because the mega-vendors are now some of the biggest users, contributors and supporters of open-source software.

I am reminded of a setting from the stories of Winnie the Pooh where Rabbit is getting out the plates and mugs and then says, «Honey or condensed milk with your bread?» Winnie was so excited that he said, «Both,» and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, «But don’t bother about the bread, please.”

In the landscape we are discussing it would translate to do you want open source or commercial software to run on your infrastructure? The answer would be both, but don’t bother with the infrastructure please.

About Kristian Heim

Head of Technical Sales 
Microsoft Norge  Passionate about helping customers unlock the power of digitalization through technology. More than 20 years of experience spanning from software development to enterprise solutions across a variety of fields in Microsoft, Birdstep, Dell and EMC. Attended University of Colorado studying Computer Science/Engineering and Classical guitar, leading to a wide span of interests ranging from experimenting with artificial intelligence to building classical instruments.