Use the Inner Source, Luke (Premium)

In what is now Microsoft’s ancient history, the software giant was perhaps best-known for its “embrace and extend” strategy, by which it would usurp any technology that threatened the dominance of Windows by embracing it, extending it with Windows-specific advantages, and then essentially take over ownership of that technology because it was then just a feature of Windows.

I’ve joked in recent years that the Microsoft we see now under Satya Nadella has shifted this strategy dramatic to simply “embrace.” The touchy-feely Microsoft of today has never found a former competitor, a product or service, or any technology it can’t embrace outright. And the more open source it is, the better.

This incredible about-face will be debated and discussed in business schools for years to come, I bet. But I’m reminded of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his comments about Linux, then Microsoft’s biggest open source concern, being “a cancer.” Because I see the way that Microsoft has embraced open source now as something far more one-sided than an embrace. The thing that Microsoft has embraced is literally taking over the company, metastasizing just like a cancer as it roots out the old Microsoft and replaces it with the new.

Comparisons to the Borg of “Star Trek” or perhaps the pod people from whichever “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” movie you prefer are equally apt. Microsoft, this gigantic corporate entity, is even more financially viable today than it was during the days in which it dominated personal computing. But it is, in no way, the same company I began covering professionally over 20 years ago. Nor is it as dominant, as feared, and as able to set the agenda for the rest of the industry. The only thing that hasn’t changed over these years is its name.

Today’s Microsoft is a follower, not a leader. A partner, not a competitor. A respected but humbled industry veteran.

And while there are many examples of how Microsoft has changed, I was struck this week that the firm has embraced a concept called “Inner Source.” And this is, I feel, the final domino for the old Microsoft around which I built my career.

As Mary Jo Foley explains it, Inner Source---sometimes written as inner source or even innersource---has its roots in the open source community, naturally. It’s a way for companies to incorporate open source methodologies into the way in which they develop, ship, and maintain software. The word “methodologies” is key here: Open source isn’t just about the visibility and availability of software source code. It’s an almost religious movement that comes with its own dogma, a sense of ethics and righteousness that, frankly, I kind of recoil against. And though I’ve often observed that “open always wins in the end,” I admit that I never really understood this aspect of open. Or considered the impact that it would inevitably have on Microsoft as it embraced---and is now being su...

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