​Microsoft releases its first Linux product

For the first time, Microsoft has released its own Linux kernel in a new Linux-based product: Azure Sphere.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Well, it's finally happened. Microsoft has released a product containing its own Linux kernel: Azure Sphere. It's not MS-Linux or Linux Windows, but it's still remarkable.

Azure Sphere is a software and hardware stack designed to secure edge devices. It includes microcontrollers, "Azure Sphere Security Service" and, the really interesting component, the Linux-based Azure Sphere operating system.

Microsoft made no bones about it. Microsoft President Brad Smith introduced Azure Sphere saying, "After 43 years, this is the first day that we are announcing, and will distribute, a custom Linux kernel."

In technology's terms that's "My, how things have changed". Even former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who once called Linux a cancer, can see that Microsoft now needs Linux.

Linus Torvalds once said, "If Microsoft ever does applications for Linux it means I've won." He's won.

Of course, Microsoft has long been building applications for Linux. In 2016, Microsoft was releasing SQL Server on Linux.

Microsoft has also completely embraced Linux on its Azure cloud. By late 2017, over 40 percent of all virtual machines on Azure were Linux. Today, Microsoft supports over half-a-dozen Linux distros on Azure. This includes CentOS, CoreOS, Debian, Oracle Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), openSUSE, and Ubuntu.

Microsoft has also long been edging its way to releasing its first Linux. It's not the first time Microsoft has sold a Unix, however. That honor goes to 1980's Microsoft Xenix.

More recently, in 2015, Microsoft showed off its Azure Cloud Switch. This was a Linux-based cross-platform operating system for running network devices like datacenter switches. But it was an internal program that was never released. Its code, however, was contributed to the Open Compute Project.

After that, in 2016, Microsoft released Software for Open Networking in the Cloud (SONiC). This is a collection of software networking components required for software-defined networks (SDN). While it required Linux to operate, Microsoft didn't create its own Linux. Instead, the company relied on Debian Linux.

But now, with Azure Sphere's own custom Linux kernel, Microsoft truly has become a Linux company. Who would have ever thought we'd see the day even a few years ago.

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