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November 17, 2016

Is Google crashing the Microsoft open source party?

Is the timing of announcements pure coincidence?

By James Nunns

Finding a tech strategy that sets your business apart from the competition is rarely a simple task, particularly so when the business is a massive tech giant and most of its rivals are doing the same thing.

Microsoft has been in that position more than once this week as it found itself grabbing the headlines with a number of announcements around open source and artificial intelligence, only for it to have the spotlight stolen by Google.

It is either pure coincidence or a clever tactic but announcements by one company have typically been followed in a blink of an eye by a similar one by the rival.

On Tuesday 15th for example Microsoft revealed that it had signed a partnership with the Elon Musk backed artificial intelligence research group called OpenAI. As part of the deal, OpenAI will use Microsoft Azure for its large scale experiments.

On the same day, Google announced a whole host of machine learning/AI style advancements.

A day later and Microsoft is joining the Linux Foundation and Google is joining the Technical Steering Group of the .NET Foundation.

Microsoft just became a Platinum member of the Linux Foundation.

Microsoft just became a Platinum member of the Linux Foundation.

The move by Microsoft to join the Linux Foundation is almost certainly bigger than Google’s move, given that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer once said: “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches,” during an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on 1st June 2001.

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So Microsoft’s move is a giant retraction of that sentiment, one which it has been trying to undo for the past couple of years with various announcements regarding a more open approach to Linux and the open source community.

Unlike Microsoft, Google has already established itself as having a pedigree in open source and so its joining of the .NET Foundation isn’t a huge surprise.

Google is already an active contributor and joining the Technical Steering Group just expands its participation.

The Alphabet subsidiary has already begun labelling itself as the ‘Open Cloud’ and Microsoft has revealed that it needs to be a bit more willing to work with the open source community because of its growing popularity.

While joining the Linux Foundation is a positive step from Microsoft, it doesn’t really prove that it is really committed to being open source. For starters, the majority of Microsoft’s offerings remain proprietary.

It will take a while for Microsoft to prove its commitment to the space and those in the open source community will be able to clearly see just how dedicated it is.

One of the common pieces of gossip at open source community conferences, such as OpenStack, is about how involved a company is in terms of committing code and contributing projects.

The Pivotal Cloud Foundry was recently announced as running natively on Microsoft Azure.

The Pivotal Cloud Foundry was recently announced as running natively on Microsoft Azure.

Some of the large vendors end up being labelled as paying lip service and not really following through. Essentially it becomes a marketing effort to show the market how nice a company it is by being open source and giving back to the community, but not really actually doing anything.

This is not to say that this will be what Microsoft is doing, but it will certainly be watched very closely.

The curiously close timing of releases on the same subjects from the two companies may just be convenience, they do both have conferences going on and they are both interested in many of the same big tech trends such as artificial intelligence and open source.

As the two shape their strategies around these hot topics, and if they continue to release everything at the same time, it will become easier for the market to compare and contrast their strategies.

Comparing a Pivotal Cloud Foundry integration on Microsoft Azure with a Google Cloud open source release that are six months apart is far less likely to happen.

Should this purely be a move by the companies to effectively crash the other’s party, then it should be quite entertaining to see how Google gets on with Microsoft’s .NET Foundation.

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