Archive for Microsoft

Microsoft Loves Linux and FOSS Because of Developers

Linux and Microsoft

This was published previously on the Amalgam Insights site.

 

For much of the past 30 years, Microsoft was famous for its hostility toward Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). They reserved special disdain for Linux, the Unix-like operating system that first emerged in the 1990s. Linux arrived on the scene just as Microsoft was beginning to batter Unix with Windows NT. The Microsoft leadership at the time, especially Steve Ballmer, viewed Linux as an existential threat. They approached Linux with an “us versus them” mentality that was, at times, rabid.

It’s not news that times have changed and Microsoft with it. Instead of looking to destroy Linux and FOSS, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has embraced it. Microsoft has begun to meld with the FOSS community, creating Linux-Windows combinations that were unthinkable in the Ballmer era.

In just the past few years Microsoft has:

  • Welcomed Linux and FOSS to their Azure cloud computing platform. They have even created their own Linux distribution for Azure.
  • Created the Linux Subsystem for Windows. This allows Linux server distributions such as Debian, Ubuntu, and OpenSuse to run natively on Windows. The Linux Subsystem as negated much of the need to spin up VMs with Linux for running FOSS development tools and server applications.
  • Released PowerShell for Linux and open sourced PowerShell. The PowerShell scripting language is as powerful as any available on Linux. While it is unlikely that Linux sysadmins will suddenly abandon BASH for PowerShell, it certainly is helpful to Windows sysadmins that now need to administer Linux systems.
  • Acquired Github, home for much of the Linux/FOSS community. While not strictly a Linux move, the acquisition of the popular code repository, home to much of the code in the FOSS world, shows a desire to integrate with that community (and profit form it.)
  • Acquired membership in Linux Foundation, as a Platinum member no less. This would have been anathema in the Ballmer’s time.

Why is Microsoft suddenly going full steam ahead into the Linux/FOSS world after decades of antagonism? Some of it is because of CEO Nadella. His world view seems to be different than the Microsoft of the past, even if he is a lifelong Microsoft manager.

More importantly, the acceptance of Linux and FOSS is driven by developers. The developer world used to be a Microsoft versus Linux-FOSS affair. Developers worked in a Microsoft shop, IBM shop, or FOSS/Linux shop (which included Java) and then the IBM shop merged with the Linx/FOSS one. Some companies were broken up into several “shops” for server and transactional computing (typically Linux/FOSS/Java) and desktop computing which was often Microsoft driven.

This is no longer the case. Developers move between environments, using whichever languages and stacks make the most sense for the application. On top of that, Linux and FOSS have infiltrated everywhere developers are through DevOps tools (which are often FOSS and Linux) and containers, which is a Linux technology. In addition, Linux has come to dominate the datacenter server farms and not Windows Server. To be a developer is to be part of the Linux/FOSS world even if Windows is part of the environment. Microsoft may dominate on the desktop but has had to embrace Linux in the back-end.

While the acquisition of Github was a bold move, there is still more for Microsoft to do if they wish to become viewed as “all-in” for Linux and FOSS. Native support for containers, especially OCI compliant containers, within Windows would be help developers to use Windows as their development platform and move components between Windows and Linux servers. Having to use a virtual machine image, no matter how lightweight, is opposed to the philosophy of containers. Even running containers in a Linux distribution on the Linux Subsystem for Windows is not how containers are supposed to be deployed.

A full version of Visual Studio for Linux would also help. As developers move between Windows and Linux systems, they would prefer to use the same tools. Visual Studio is an excellent development environment and would have advantages for Linux developers who code on that platform. Microsoft has taken the first step in that direction with Visual Studio Code for Linux, a Linux version of Microsoft’s excellent code editor. It’s time for the complete IDE and DevOps tool sets to become cross platform.

Of course, every Linux lover wants to see Microsoft Office for Linux.  Developers who code on Linux usually have to have a second machine to run email and Office applications or are forced to code in a virtual machine.  While this would be a help to developers, it is highly unlikely Microsoft would ever port Office to Linux. The return on investment for the development and support costs would be minimal if not negative. It would also jeopardize the Windows desktop franchise by making Linux desktops a viable alternative to Windows. It’s hard to imagine Microsoft risking both money and market share, even to appease developers.

Microsoft, after decades of outright hostility to Linux has recognized its influence in the developer world. It is in their best interest to continue to weld together the Linux and Windows worlds in ways that make it easier for developers to move between them. That means more Microsoft tools on Linux and Linux tools on Windows. No longer afraid of Linux, Microsoft should be expected to continue to embrace it as a vital component of software environments everywhere.

Cloud Vendors Release CI/CD Tools

Cloud CI/CD Tools

This was also released under a slightly different name on Amalgam Insights.

Development organization continue to feel increasing pressure to produce better code more quickly. To help accomplish that faster-better philosophy, a number of methodologies have emerged that that help organizations quickly merge individual code, test it, and deploy to production. While DevOps is actually a management methodology, it is predicated on an integrated pipeline that drives code from development to production deployment smoothly. In order to achieve these goals, companies have adopted continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) tool sets. These tools, from companies such as Atlassian and GitLab, help developers to merge individual code into the deployable code bases that make up an application and then push them out to test and production environments.

Cloud vendors have lately been releasing their own CI/CD tools to their customers. In some cases, these are extensions of existing tools, such as Microsoft Visual Team Studio on Azure. Google’s recently announced Cloud Build as well as AWS CodeDeploy and CodePipeline are CI/CD tools developed specifically for their cloud environments. Cloud CI/CD tools are rarely all-encompassing and often rely on other open source or commercial products, such as Jenkins or Git, to achieve a full CI/CD pipeline.

These products represent more than just new entries into an increasingly crowded CI/CD market. They are clearly part of a longer-term strategy by cloud service providers to become so integrated into the DevOps pipeline that moving to a new vendor or adopting a multi-cloud strategy would be much more difficult. Many developers start with a single cloud service provider in order to explore cloud computing and deploy their initial applications. Adopting the cloud vendor’s CI/CD tools embeds the cloud vendor deeply in the development process. The cloud service provider is no longer sitting at the end of the development pipeline; They are integrated and vital to the development process itself. Even in the case where the cloud service provider CI/CD tools support hybrid cloud deployments, they are always designed for the cloud vendors own offerings. Google Cloud Build and Microsoft Visual Studio certainly follow this model.

There is danger for commercial vendors of CI/CD products outside these cloud vendors. They are now competing with native products, integrated into the sales and technical environment of the cloud vendor. Purchasing products from a cloud vendor is as easy as buying anything else from the cloud portal and they are immediately aware of the services the cloud vendor offers.  No fuss, no muss.

This isn’t a problem for companies committed to a particular cloud service provider. Using native tools designed for the primary environment offers better integration, less work, and ease of use that is hard to achieve with external tools. The cost of these tools is often utility-based and, hence, elastic based on the amount of work product flowing through the pipeline. The trend toward native cloud CI/CD tools also helps explain Microsoft’s purchase of GitHub. GitHub, while cloud agnostic, will be much for powerful when completely integrated into Azure – for Microsoft customers anyway.

Building tools that strongly embed a particular cloud vendor into the DevOps pipeline is clearly strategic even if it promotes monoculture. There will be advantages for customers as well as cloud vendors. It remains to be seen if the advantages to customers overcome the inevitable vendor lock-in that the CI/CD tools are meant to create.