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Microsoft president admits the company was on 'the wrong side of history' with open source

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In 2001 Microsoft's then CEO Steve Ballmer described Linux, and by extension open source in general, as "a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches." Fast forward to 2020, and Microsoft's current president Brad Smith has admitted the company was wrong.

He said as much during an MIT presentation earlier this week (via The Register (opens in new tab)). "Microsoft was on the wrong side of history when open source exploded at the beginning of the century and I can say that about me personally," Smith said. "The good news is that, if life is long enough, you can learn... that you need to change."

It's understandable that turn of the century Microsoft might hold some antipathy towards open source: a software company can't be blamed for worrying about free (and great) alternatives to the programs it charges for. But even Steve Ballmer changed his tune on open source back in 2016 (opens in new tab), though he maintained that the fight was worth waging.

Smith's comments aren't a huge surprise given the unstoppable rise of the open source movement, which continues to flourish today. That said, 2001 Ballmer might have been horrified at the news that Windows 10's File Explorer now features easy Linux file integration (opens in new tab). The possibility of an open source Windows 10 (opens in new tab) was even floated back in 2015. Microsoft acquired GitHub (opens in new tab) for $7.5 billion in 2018, and the company's latest version of Windows Edge even adopts code from the open source Chromium project.

Shaun Prescott is the Australian editor of PC Gamer. With over ten years experience covering the games industry, his work has appeared on GamesRadar+, TechRadar, The Guardian, PLAY Magazine, the Sydney Morning Herald, and more. Specific interests include indie games, obscure Metroidvanias, speedrunning, experimental games and FPSs. He thinks Lulu by Metallica and Lou Reed is an all-time classic that will receive its due critical reappraisal one day.