Here's a headline many thought they would never see: "Microsoft joins Open Invention Network to help protect Linux and open source."
What's more — it's from a Microsoft blog post.
Driving the news: The company announced on Wednesday it's joining the Open Invention Network, making its 60,000 patents available to the group's 2,600+ members to help those companies defend against infringement lawsuits.
Background: The OIN, for the uninitiated, is a coalition of companies formed in 2005 to help the budding open source movement protect itself from an onslaught of patent attacks.
- Microsoft, at that time, was among the commercial software companies leading the charge against open source in general, and against Linux in particular.
- Its founding companies were Google, IBM, NEC, Novell, Philips, Red Hat and Sony.
Microsoft's position has changed over the years. Before its warm embrace of open source, Microsoft led the charge against Linux, and later Android.
- It worked to create a cloud of legal uncertainty, casting both operating systems as likely infringers of Microsoft patents.
- It later focused on trying to get those selling Linux and Android-based devices to license such patents, generating a healthy stream of revenue — a move that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
- At the same time, Microsoft said those who have been closely watching its evolution will see this as "the next logical step."
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. — Microsoft statement
Our thought bubble: Yes, Microsoft has been moving in this direction for a while. Still, it’s the fullest possible turn from when then-CEO Steve Ballmer was calling Linux a "cancer" and threatening that any company using it or Linux was infringing on Microsoft patents.
- Of note: Microsoft's acquisition of code repository GitHub, announced in June, makes a strong relationship with the open source community even more strategically important to the software giant.
Fine point: Microsoft VP and soon-to-be GitHub CEO Nat Friedman notes that Microsoft didn't seek any special treatment, committing all its patents and clicking "accept" on the license agreement just like any other member.
- "If you're looking for signs that we are serious about being the world's largest open source company, look no further," Friedman says.
What they're saying:
- The Verge's Tom Warren: "Microsoft is going all in on open source. Hell has truly frozen over."
- Lambda School CEO Austen Allred: "The turnaround of Microsoft openly embracing and advocating for the open source community is something that would blow the mind of fourteen-year-old me."
- SlideShare co-founder Amit Ranjan: "It's not April Fools Day & this isn't an Onion article either:)"
Meanwhile, in another headline that would have seemed unlikely a decade ago, Microsoft passed Acer to become the No. 5 PC vendor in the U.S. thanks to its Surface line, per research company Gartner.