Microsoft once called Linux 'a cancer,' and that was a big mistake

Microsoft's hostility to Linux has softened dramatically in recent years, but the scars from the war against Linux are still visible today.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

How things have changed. Back in 2001, the then CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, said that "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches." Now Microsoft is embracing Linux, having come to the realization that it is Linux and not Windows Server that enterprise users want, both on servers and in the cloud.

But the negative effects of the war against Linux has left scars on Microsoft that are visible today.

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A lot has been written about Microsoft during the 2000s, but when I look back that that time the problem seems clear. Microsoft became too obsessed with putting Windows on every device when it should have been looking at how to make money from all devices.

The leadership at the time saw Windows as what mattered, and the company was mindlessly cheered on by fanboys that saw the multibillion-dollar corporation as a sports team.

While Microsoft saw the world through the lens of PCs and servers all running Windows, the world around it was changing, and changing rapidly. PCs and laptops gave way to a myriad of devices across a wide range of screen sizes and form factors, while servers transformed into cloud platforms.

If instead of pushing Windows onto devices, Microsoft had instead worked on building ecosystems that weren't related to Windows, the company would today be very different and very likely be owning ground that companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Google are currently dominating.

I'm certain that had Microsoft decided to embrace Linux – and Android – early on, the company would have not allowed the iPhone, Kindle, and Chromebook and Pixel devices to dominate in the way they did, and I'm certain that the markets would be better for having had the competition.

But instead Microsoft left a huge pile of cash on the table, and now has massive gaps in its empire. It doesn't have a smartphone or cheap tablet, doesn't have devices to compete with the likes of the Chromebook, has an app store that struggles to be taken seriously, is a small player in the entertainment industry, and doesn't have much of an influence in areas such as home automation.

And given how established the players are, it's hard to see a way Microsoft can now make a meaningful impression on these markets. 

And that's a shame.

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Do you think Microsoft should have embraced Linux sooner? How do you think the tech world would be different? Let me know below!

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