Microsoft joins a community dedicated to protecting Linux and other open source software programs from patent risk. Since the announcement, tech pundits and commentators have expressed their surprise over Microsoft’s move.
Erich Andersen, Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Microsoft, wrote these words last week , when he announced that Microsoft is joining Open Invention Network (OIN); a community working passionately to defend Linux and other open source programs against patent risks.
“Microsoft will be able to do more than ever to help protect Linux and other important open source workloads from patent assertions.”
OIN has created a voluntary system of patent cross-licensing between member companies, who agrees not to assert their patents against Linux and related open source software. With its more than 60,000 patents, Microsoft will enforce OIN and at the same time remove itself as a potential adversary against OIN by joining the network.
Next natural step for Microsoft
For followers of this blog, it should not be a big surprise. I have written about how Microsoft is LinkedIn to Open Source  and how it makes sense for Microsoft to spend $7.5 billion on buying the platform for open source projects; Github . Joining OIN is just the next natural step in Microsoft’s, admittedly long, journey from a fierce defender of proprietary software to an active supporter of open source.
However, Erich Andersen did anticipate the surprised reaction from some:
“We know Microsoft’s decision to join OIN may be viewed as surprising to some; it is no secret that there has been friction in the past between Microsoft and the open source community over the issue of patents.”
He doesn’t mention any of these frictions, but Android and Samsung, for instance, had to pay billions of dollars to Microsoft over the years because of patents belonging to Microsoft .
But, as I have written about previously, Microsoft has realised that developers want choice, but not something that is mutually exclusive. As Erich Andersen puts it:
“Developers do not want a binary choice between Windows vs. Linux, or .NET vs Java – they want cloud platforms to support all technologies. They want to deploy technologies at the edge – on any device – that meet customer needs.”
World’s Largest Open Source Company?
Nat Friedman was one of those developers who wanted to combine Microsoft’s great development technologies with open source such as Linux. Together with Miguel de Icaza, he built the open source implementation of the .NET framework, Mono, in order to make it run on Linux many years ago. In 2016 Microsoft bought Nat’s and Miguel’s company Xamarin and Nat Friedman is now at Microsoft. He will be the future CEO of Github as soon as the deal is finally closed and approved. Nat Friedman is now working at Microsoft where he is spreading the gospel of open source.
In a tweet after the announcement of Microsoft joining OIN, Nat Friedman wrote:
“If you’re looking for signs that we are serious about being the world’s largest open source company, look no further.” 
I am sure that Microsoft has gone through a very long journey from opposing open source to now realising that developers and IT-people in general really don’t want the binary choice of yesteryears between Windows and Linux or between .NET and Java, as Erich Andersen puts it.
There are, however, still some sceptics in the open source community. Here is former Microsoft-employee and big-time Linux-nerd Bryan Lunduke, who admits he has been too hard on Microsoft, but he is still quite sceptical about Microsoft’s intentions .
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