Photo: Tim O’Brien
How do you convince a generation of people who have grown up thinking you are evil to change their minds and love you instead?That’s the job of Microsoft’s Tim O’Brien, general manager of Platform Strategy. He’s out to convince a new generation of application programmers to come to Microsoft’s cloud, Azure.
It’s been 11 years since Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer called Linux a cancer. Since then, the company has taken two steps forward for every one step back in embracing open source generally, and Linux in particular. Many open source programmers don’t trust Microsoft and don’t like how it treats popular open source projects that compete with it, like Android and Linux.
O’Brien says that Microsoft has changed so much that this mistrust is based on misconception.
“I’ve seen two dynamics going on,” he told Business Insider. “One is a negative perception of the company based on biases from a previous life/experience.” The second is “just a lack of awareness of what we are doing in the platform that is interesting to a bunch of developers out there trying to build apps and make money.”
He adds: “A lot of developers weren’t even around during those days. They weren’t out of grade school when a lot of biases were being formed.”
But the truth is, the desktop operating system is irrelevant to the cloud, since apps are run in the browser. So, unlike the 1990’s, Microsoft is no longer in a position to force those who write applications into becoming its groupies.
So Microsoft has no choice but to abandon some Microsoft-built technologies, like its Adobe Flash competitor, Silverlight, in favour of upcoming standards like HTML 5.
Silverlight is now being positioned as a browser plug-in that “filled a niche in market when standards weren’t mature enough to meet the need,” he says.
O’Brien wouldn’t confirm reports that Microsoft is going to go so far as to support Linux on its cloud, Azure. But he did point out that Microsoft has already adopted a lot of non-Microsoft technologies. These include support in Azure for:
- Java development tools including Eclipse.
- The open source NoSQL database MongoDB.
- The open source search engine Solr/Lucene.
- The open-source analytics project Hadoop.
The real question is will it also cause Microsoft’s culture to change more radically?
We are seeing indications that Microsoft is willing to kill other sacred cows, too. For instance, Windows 8 changes a lot of things, including how Windows will run applications built for older versions.