Microsoft said that it has learned a lot from its increased engagement with the open source world, adding that open source is also now the “accepted model” for collaboration between companies.

Microsoft was once one of the purest purveyors of proprietary software, but it has gone some way toward shedding that image over the past decade. Spearheaded in large part by Satya Nadella, who oversaw .NET’s open-sourcing, Microsoft’s joining of the Linux Foundation, and the open source initiative, Microsoft has pushed hard to convince the world that it’s “all-in on open source.”

The year 2020 continued on a similar footing, with Microsoft open-sourcing more of its own technologies. The company also created (and joined) the Open Source Security Foundation (OSSF) alongside old foes Google and IBM, and it emerged as the top external contributor to Google’s open source Chromium project.

In a blog post published today, Microsoft said that an industry-wide embrace of open source technology has encouraged cross-company collaboration, particularly among the tech giants, which can bypass much of the lawyering to join forces in weeks rather than months. This highlights the role that open source plays in bringing the big tech behemoths of the world together.

“A few years ago if you wanted to get several large tech companies together to align on a software initiative, establish open standards, or agree on a policy, it would often require several months of negotiation, meetings, debate, back and forth with lawyers … and did we mention the lawyers?,” wrote Sarah Novotny, Microsoft’s open source lead for the Azure Office of the CTO. “Open source has completely changed this: it has become an industry-accepted model for cross-company collaboration. When we see a new trend or issue emerging that we know would be better to work on together to solve, we come together in a matter of weeks, with established models we can use to guide our efforts.”

The company highlighted several ways that it’s learning from its investments in open source, including the importance of listening to community feedback; the need to help employees find a balance between autonomy and adhering to company policy; and why “over communicating” can help remove uncertainty and stress.

The rise of open source

A quick peek across the open source sphere over the past few years reveals how pivotal open source now is to businesses of all sizes, with IBM snapping up open source software maker Red Hat for $34 billion, Salesforce buying Mulesoft for $6.5 billion, and Microsoft itself doling out $7.5 billion for GitHub. Moreover, all the big technology companies these days rely on — and contribute to — open source projects, while simultaneously making many of their own tools available under an open source license.

In a year fraught with challenges for most of the global workforce as they rapidly transitioned to remote work, Microsoft said the world can learn a lot from the open source realm, which has always had to embrace a remote-first and “digital-first” mindset due to its inherent global distribution.

“For those of us who have been deeply engaged in open source, remote work has been our norm for many years because open source communities are large, globally distributed, and require effective collaboration from developers around the world,” Novotny said.


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