Inside How Microsoft Views Open Source


Editor’s Note: This article is paid for by Microsoft as a Diamond-level sponsor of LinuxCon North America, to be held Aug. 22-24, 2016, and was written by

Few saw Microsoft’s embrace of open source coming. When CEO Satya Nadella declared two years ago that “Microsoft loves Linux”  it’s safe to say many in the open source community were flabbergasted. Indeed, suspicion and disbelief continues in certain circles despite Microsoft’s increasing product builds focused on, or including, open source.

Among Microsoft’s recent open source efforts are its contributions to the FreeBSD project, support for Ubuntu as a subsystem on Windows 10, and the Xamarin software development kit. Microsoft has also partnered with The Linux Foundation for its official Linux on Azure certification.

More than a few folks wonder what the heck is going on. Could Microsoft be really turning into a full-blown open source company?   

We talked to corporate vice president of enterprise open source at Microsoft, Wim Coekaerts – yeah, Mr. Linux himself who, up until a few months ago, led Linux and virtualization engineering at Oracle – to get a closer look at how Microsoft views open source internally and maybe catch a glimpse of the company’s open source end game. You were at Oracle for 21 years, heading its open source initiatives. What was happening at Microsoft that interested you so much that you would join the company?

Wim Coekaerts: Yes, I was at Oracle for 21 years. It was an exciting environment and I was involved in most of the initial open source efforts there. But it was also time for a change.

In mid-January, I had a chat with Scott Guthrie and Mike Neil at Starbucks and they started telling me about all the things Microsoft was doing with open source. Now, I knew about some of those things like everyone else who keeps a close eye on open source, but I was totally blown away by how much more there was.

I hadn’t seen or heard anything about those open source projects in the news or anywhere, and they were really interesting projects.  I was totally blown away. What were some of those projects that you hadn’t heard about before that “blew you away?”

Coekaerts: Oh, there were many. But certainly VS Code, which combines a code editor with developer tools for the core edit-build-debug cycle. It’s a new type of tool with editing capabilities, light integration with other tools, debugging support, and other features. Other interesting projects included the documentation generator for dotnet; OMI which is an open source CIM server; and, Project Malmo which is an AI experimentation platform built on top of Minecraft. Oh, and the Azure documentation on github developed in the open under a CC3 license. Ok, so you were excited about Microsoft open source projects and joined the company. What are the ideas at Microsoft for open source now, under your lead especially?

Coekaerts: Well, I’ve only been here for four months so there’s not a huge roadmap yet. But there are so many open source projects going on already that my first step was to create a map of those so we’ll have better insights on where we are and where we want to go from here.

I’m also making sure what we offer now is consistent with rules and projects in Linux distributions. The customer experience really matters, and we want to ensure we keep customer trust because we’ve truly earned it, so we’re taking the time to make sure everything installs right, that the right version is running, and that everything really runs correctly and smoothly across the board.

But our focus is on much more than just our open source products. For example, we’ve found a lot of open source projects that don’t have enough developer tools so we’re helping with that and with QA too. We’re not just following the herd with products of our own, we’re actively leading and sharing within the community. And that brings us to the big question. Is Microsoft setting its sights on becoming a full-fledged open source company?

Coekaerts: We’re building products that are critical for us to offer to make our customers happy. Certainly open source is part of that, for developers and customers alike. We are in the business of providing what our customers want and need and that includes open source. Our customers want choices, so we give them choices.

We are very committed to open source internally. It’s a really exciting time to be at Microsoft.

Open source is growing internally and externally and the opportunities that brings to everyone is almost limitless. Stay tuned, we have some more very exciting open source news coming up. Which brings us to your keynote at LinuxCon. Can you give us a preview of what you’ll be speaking about, or at least a few hints?

Coekaerts: Why of course. I’ll be giving a detailed overview of what Microsoft is doing now with open source and how we can be of help. We are committed to helping everyone, not just ourselves, and so I’ll cover some of the ways we can contribute and assist. We’re also releasing a number of things in the next several weeks so I’ll be speaking about those, too.

I hope to see everyone reading this there. I like to share what we know and have to offer. But I also like to hear thoughts and concerns from people working with this everyday so that I stay informed and focused on what else is needed in the community.  


Microsoft is a Diamond sponsor of LinuxCon North America. You can join Wim and the team working with Linux & open source technologies in Microsoft’s booth #3 at LinuxCon in Toronto, August 22-24. Make sure you visit Microsoft’s Linux website if you’re interested in learning more about how they work with Linux & open source technologies in the cloud.