Posey's Tips & Tricks

Does Microsoft Love Linux Too Much?

The integration of the open source platform in many facets of Microsoft means that Windows IT pros may need to update their skill sets.

A few years ago, I received a rather alarming e-mail. I had just woken up and hadn't even had a chance to have a sip of my energy drink when I was jolted awake by what I read. The e-mail appeared to be a confidential, internal Microsoft memo discussing the creation of Microsoft Linux. An attached product roadmap showed Microsoft eventually phasing out Windows Server in favor of Linux. Just as I was about to reply to the message, the cobwebs cleared from my sleep-deprived brain just enough for me to remember that it was April Fools' Day. The memo was nothing more than an elaborate April Fools prank. Had I read the memo more carefully, I would have realized that it even concluded with the words April Fools.

Admittedly, the fake memo seemed somewhat implausible at the time. Since then, however, reality has begun to resemble the prank. Microsoft has gone all in on Linux. Windows Server 2016, for example, supports Docker containers. If you need more evidence, then consider the fact that the Windows 10 "Anniversary" update includes a full Ubuntu-based Bash shell that you can use to run Linux software directly on Windows. According to Wired Microsoft has even gone so far as to create its own Linux build, although according to the article the build is used internally to power networking hardware.

My point is that when Satya Nadella proudly proclaimed that Microsoft loves Linux, he obviously meant it. As such, the question then becomes what Microsoft's new found love of Linux means for Windows and for Windows admins.

Some of the people that I have talked to in recent months have made apocalyptic predictions regarding the future of Windows. In their eyes, Linux is becoming the new standard and the transition away from Windows has already begun. While I don't necessarily buy into these predictions, I do believe that they contain at least an element of truth. Here is how I see the situation.

First off, it is impossible to deny that a higher percentage of servers are running Linux today than just a few short years ago. Linux has become a mainstream operating system. It is also impossible to deny that Microsoft has openly embraced Linux. Even so, I think that Windows is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Here's why.

There are way too many mission critical business applications that run on Windows. If Microsoft were to abandon its investment in Windows Server, then it would also be abandoning the software that is designed to run on Windows Server. Much of this software is made by Microsoft.

Now just to play devil's advocate, Microsoft could conceivably reengineer Visual Studio so that applications that were specifically designed for Windows Server could be seamlessly recompiled for Linux. Even so, the cost to application vendors, including Microsoft, would be astronomical. Applications that are already used in production would have to be completely retested and revalidated. Never mind the cost of moving complex multi-tier applications off of Windows and on to Linux.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that there will never be a Linux transition. It's just that I think that such a transition will take an entirely different form. My guess is that we will eventually see Windows and Linux merged together, much like the way that Bash and Windows 10 have been merged together.

It is impossible to know for sure what such a merger might look like, but my guess is that Windows will become even more modular than it already is and that administrators will have the option of installing the environments that they prefer. These environments could potentially be exposed as server roles. An administrator might for example, have the option of installing the Linux role, the Windows role, or perhaps even both.

One of the big questions about Microsoft's love of Linux that I have yet to hear anyone ask is how Linux support will impact the Microsoft certification exams? Take SQL Server, for example. The certification exams for SQL Server have long had a reputation for being difficult. Recently however, Microsoft announced SQL for Linux. Does this mean that those who will be taking a SQL Server exam will need a solid working knowledge of both Windows and Linux, or will Microsoft offer two different, platform-specific exams? The answer remains to be seen.

Ultimately, I think that we will have to wait and see how the whole Linux / Windows thing plays out. In any case, Microsoft continues to invest heavily in Windows Server, and I just don't foresee Windows Server going away any time soon.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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