In many ways Microsoft is going through the corporate equivalent of a mid-life crisis—it has reached a stage where it longs to drop a few pounds, and turn back the clock a few years. After years of tremendous success, it’s now starting to show its age, and it is struggling to adapt to the new tech landscape and compete with younger, leaner, more innovative competitors.
The shift began under ex-CEO Steve Ballmer. Ballmer’s approach, though, was misguided. Ballmer’s Microsoft suffered from hubris, and ignored the seismic shift in technology until it was too late. When Ballmer finally recognized the existential threat, and tried to turn the ship around, it was done from within the established bloated corporate culture. There was an effort to rearrange the chairs on the deck with a management reorganization, but it simply wasn’t enough.
Then Satya Nadella took over. Nadella has a more aggressive vision. It’s still not an easy job, nor a goal that can be accomplished overnight with a behemoth the size of Microsoft, but Nadella has dramatically changed the culture, and the vision for where Microsoft is heading.
Part of the new and improved Microsoft includes embracing communities that Microsoft has long ignored or alienated, and shifting the way things get done at Microsoft so the company can be more agile. It is evident in how Microsoft partnered with Chef and Puppet Labs to integrate popular DevOps tools into the Azure cloud platform, and it can be seen in how Microsoft is adopting open source.
“Recent articles have shown that Microsoft is “open sourcing” code to their internal teams. The fact that that is advertised as innovation is telling,” declared Michael LaVista, CEO and Founder of Caxy. “That’s what smart organizations have always done. In fact, Microsoft has somehow found itself the underdog in this sense and probably needs to do things like this to attract talent.”
Leveraging open source concepts internally isn’t quite the same thing, though, as actually making Microsoft code open source. Open source projects like Apache, Project Libre, or Docker share source code with the general public, and anyone can review the code, and submit changes to improve or fix the code. Open source communities collaborate to continuously enhance the code. Microsoft appears to be doing something similar, but without exposing its source code to the general public.
LaVista suggests that Microsoft should take that next step, though, and work collaboratively with the open source community outside of Microsoft’s walls. If it does so, Microsoft will some issues to address. Will it accept code fixes from a 14-year old on the other side of the world? Will exposing source code for the Windows operating system, Microsoft Office, or other popular Microsoft applications open up a Pandora’s Box of security concerns?
“They will have to embrace what happens to code when it is open sourced. Once the code is out there, everyone can see the flaws,” explains LaVista. “The benefit of the model is that you have so many more eyes looking at it from more perspectives. If Microsoft is used to running their own software and making their own decisions about what to work on and fix, this could pose problem.”
Perhaps. LaVista makes good points about concerns Microsoft would face, but in and of themselves they’re not a reason not to adapt and evolve. Yes, exposing Microsoft source code to the general public would probably result in a spike in security concerns, but once the dust settles the collaborative approach of an open source community addressing those issues could result in quicker patch releases, and make the software more secure.
LaVista recommends that Microsoft use companies like Red Hat, IBM, and HP as examples of how a larger corporation can be successful in an open source culture. Only time will tell. We’ll have to wait and see to what extent Microsoft makes the shift to open source, and we’ll have to wait and see how Nadella’s Microsoft adapts, and whether Microsoft can successfully reinvent itself to remain competitive in this new tech landscape.