Wednesday, March 16, 2016

SQL Server on Linux?

Last week, Microsoft made an amazing announcement: they are bringing SQL Server to Linux. I find this interesting because of Microsoft's history.

Consider Microsoft's history and their approach towards open source software. There was a time not so very long ago that Microsoft feared open source software. Former CEO Steve Ballmer referred to open source as a "cancer" that would taint everything it touched. (The original interview at the Chicago Sun-Times is now missing, so I've linked to a referencing article at The Register.)

Ballmer's message was clear: He didn't want companies to use open source software. Ballmer's statement was aimed squarely at CEOs and other C-level executives who didn't fully understand how open source software worked, and wanted them to think by using open source software (Linux) you would need to open source your own internal development. And by saying that, to set fear in implementing open source software in corporate environments.

Of course, that's not how open source software works. Open source software is just like any other software, except you can view the source code. Most open source software is distributed under a "copyleft" license that keeps the source code available to anyone who uses the software. In fact, the copyleft requires that if you distribute open source software, you need to make available the open source code. That term can be somewhat confusing to people new to open source software, and it's that confusion that Ballmer wanted to build on.

Maybe you already know about open source software, and are confused by statements like this. But this was all part of Microsoft's anti-open source playbook. And yes, there really is a playbook of sorts. Starting with a 1998 Microsoft memo for then-CEO Bill Gates, leaked on Halloween 1998 and thus dubbed the "Halloween Documents," Microsoft has long viewed open source software a threat to the Microsoft business model.

Since 1998, Microsoft's strategy has been to "Embrace and Extend" open source software, by adopting standards that open source software adheres to and depends upon, then extending those protocols to integrate proprietary Microsoft technologies. For example, extend DNS by integrating Microsoft Active Directory functionality to "add value." The theory is that open source software will be unable to follow the proprietary path due to licensing and other restrictions. From the 1998 Halloween Document:
OSS projects have been able to gain a foothold in many server applications because of the wide utility of highly commoditized, simple protocols. By extending these protocols and developing new protocols, we can deny OSS projects entry into the market.
Over time, Microsoft advanced their strategy to instill "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt" when talking about open source software. The goal here was to raise unanswered questions that cause C-level executives to fear open source software. For example, "Look at the copyleft. If you use open source software in your enterprise, you'll need to give away your proprietary source code to anyone who asks." (No, you don't.) This led to Ballmer's famous "cancer" statement.

But under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft seems to have genuinely changed its tune. Rather than only develop applications for the Windows platform (and maybe a little MacOS) Microsoft now provides versions of its products for iOS, Android, and now Linux. Several years ago, Microsoft entered the Cloud application market, providing a version of Office ("Office 365") that you can use via a web browser, similar to Google Docs.

And now, we find Microsoft plans to release a version of SQL Server for Linux. I'm excited by this news. I don't have any Linux systems at my new organization (the culture of government seems to be Windows-only) but I want our IT organization to remain open to other options, including Linux. SQL Server for Linux opens up new possibilities for us. And for that, I welcome this news.
image: Wikimedia (public domain)

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