Microsoft’s Wim Coekaerts on open source: “The days of a closed Microsoft are over”

When someone widely known as “Mr. Linux” decides to up and go work for Microsoft Corp., you know that we’re living in some interesting times in IT.

And as the Linux operating system celebrated its 25th anniversary this month, Wim Coekaerts was in Toronto this week to outline Microsoft’s commitment to the open source platform and engagement with the open source community. At LinuxCon North America, representing Microsoft as a keynote speaker for the first time, Coekaerts told IT World Canada that it’s all about taking open source seriously: “It’s certainly not a threat.”

As Oracle Corp.’s former senior vice president of Linux and virtualization engineering — with more than two decades spent with the company — Coekaerts was the man in terms of bolstering Oracle’s open source approach. This included positioning Oracle as a distributor of Linux with its Oracle Linux product and transitioning the programming staff to a Linux desktop environment.

A few years ago, the idea that Microsoft would be venturing into this space would be unheard of. Indeed, if someone had told him that one day he would be working for Redmond, he wouldn’t have believed them, he joked.

Wim Coekaerts Microsoft.jpg
Microsoft’s Wim Coekaerts.

Today, as Coekaerts notes, it’s just an example of how the IT industry is pivoting towards a multi-cloud, multi-OS world.

Just as Microsoft’s executive team has changed with CEO Natya Sadella in charge, the company’s approach to the cloud has changed along with it, he said, adding the company has actually been focused on open source for the last few years.

Coekaerts role at Microsoft as its new corporate vice president of open source in the enterprise cloud group is around “deepening” engagement and innovation within the open source community.

The Microsoft Azure platform is “fairly powerful and Linux growth is critical” to meeting customer needs, he continued.

Microsoft on Linux

While the company likely won’t make available an Office-friendly Linux offering anytime soon, it has been making inroads within the open source space.

Microsoft this week announced that PowerShell is now available on Linux. The move enables both Windows and Linux users to manage the command-line shell and scripting language from a range of environments, according to Coekaerts. Via the Azure cloud, the company offers Linux servers and developers can now take advantage of PowerShell scripts on Linux servers.

Along with the announcement that an update to the Microsoft Operations Management Suite (OMS) product — OMS Monitoring Agent for Linux to enable greater visibility and control of applications and workloads across Azure and other clouds in Linux environments — Microsoft is demonstrating that stronger integration with open source-based tools is a priority.

“Powershell enables you to hide that complexity behind command and have scripts that have one command name that will work everywhere,” said Coekaerts.

The company also announced the availability of OMS Docker Container monitoring preview. The solution enables users to review “container inventory, performance, and logs from one place, get a simplified view of containers’ usage, and can diagnose issues whether your containers are running in the cloud or on-premises.”

But it’s more than just making things available on Linux; he added that the company is committed to forging “community partnerships” with the open source ecosystem moving forward.

“We want to show when there is IP that makes sense to be open — and there a community angle of developers and DevOps folks — that we are certainly willing to make that publicly available,” he said. “We do in a way that’s normal for developers as well, not from a private Microsoft side or custom model. We do it on GitHub much like everyone else does.”

Linux represents “an important platform for us to host on Azure,” he offered. “We do a lot of Linux stuff, and what it comes down to is Azure needs to be a platform that can run whatever customers are running and want to run,” he added.

At Linuxcon, the reception has been warm, both to his new position and Microsoft’s open source overtures, noted Coekaerts.

In addition to PowerShell, the company now offers .NET core, SQL Server for Linux, Ubuntu on Windows 10, and open sourced Visual Studio Code. Companies today  are operating in a cross-platform environment; with Linux in Azure for example, nearly one in three virtual machines are Linux, according to Coekaerts.

Life as “Mr. Linux at Microsoft” is a great opportunity, he said. While quick to note that Microsoft wasn’t too accommodating to open source in the past, “the days of a closed Microsoft are over.”


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Ryan Patrick
Ryan Patrick
Seasoned technology reporter, editor and senior content producer.

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