Preston Gralla

Microsoft's new tune: We love Linux

May 31, 2012 9:40 AM EDT

Once upon a time, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called Linux a "cancer." No more. Microsoft will embrace Linux on its Windows Azure cloud platform as a way to make headway against Amazon and other cloud competitors.

The rumor has been around for some time, and Mary Jo Foley says it's likely more than just a rumor. She reports that on June 7, when Microsoft unveils Azure's newest features, it will include a technology preview of Linux running on "persistent" virtual machines.

Key here is not just that Linux virtual machines will be able to run in Azure, but that those machines will be persistent. If the virtual machines weren't persistent, when they rebooted they'd lose all their data. Clearly, that's not a solution that any business would want. Making the machines persistent means they'll be fully useful.

Foley also reports that on June 7 Microsoft will reveal details about Antares, the framework for hosting Web sites and Web apps on Azure. It appears that Antares will also be compatible with open source software, not just Windows tools.

In the old days, Microsoft would never embrace a competing technology, and certainly not Linux. But the company has begun to realize that it can't grow if it relies solely on its own technology, and it has begun to accept open source tools. For example, it has embraced the open source map project OpenStreetMap as a way to gain ground against Google Maps.

Two years ago Microsoft's Jean Paoli told Network World, "We love open source," and pointed to contributions to open source code and a willingness to make some Microsoft products interoperable with open source software.

And a little more than a month ago, Microsoft created Microsoft Open Technologies, headed by Paoli, with a staff of between 50 and 75, with the goal of better working with the open source community and open source in general.

All this isn't to say that Microsoft is giving up on properietary technology. That's the heart and the soul of the company. But it has clearly recognized that it needs to embrace Linux and open source, at least in some ways, if it's going to thrive.