Microsoft and Linux were not the best of friends.
Microsoft has indulged in patent wars over the years, with the most recent having against Google's Linux-based Android mobile operating system. But that is ending as Microsoft agreed to join the Open Invention Network (OIN), and to cross-license its more than 60,000 patents to participating members.
"This is everything Microsoft has, and it covers everything related to older open-source technologies such as Android, the Linux kernel, and OpenStack; newer technologies such as LF Energy and HyperLedger, and their predecessor and successor versions," said OIN's CEO, Keith Bergelt.
The Redmond=based company founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, and led by CEO Satya Nadella, is joining the group to show another sign that the company is reversing itself when it comes to open-source technology.
"We came from a place where we were not friendly to open source," said Scott Guthrie, Microsoft's executive vice president of the cloud and enterprise group. "But you should "look at our actions over the last five or six years . . . at the end of the day, we've shown by our actions that we're serious about open source."
The Open Invention Network is a patent non-aggression community that supports the freedom of action in Linux as a key element of open source software. OIN was founded on November 10, 2005 by IBM, Novell, Philips, Red Hat and others.
The company acquires patents and licenses them royalty free to its community members which, in turn, agree not to assert their own patents against Linux and Linux-related systems and applications. OIN acts as a patent pool in which its members should agree to cross-license their patents to other members.
Since then, Oracle, Google, and many others have joined to create a massive pool of patents that allow members to defend themselves against patent attacks from non-members.
Before Microsoft joined, OIN had more than 2,650 community members and owns more than 1,300 global patents and applications.
"Microsoft really has been changing. No one's made a longer journey than Microsoft from a proprietary software company to one that lives with open source," explained Bergelt.
Beyond Microsoft's cultural shift to embrace open source, the company is also looking forward to end its pointless and costly patent wars that emerged after the iPhone, and later Android, in the battle for supremacy in the mobile ecosystem.
With Microsoft joining OIN, the company is also blurring the lines between Windows and Linux, encouraging developers to create programs for both operating systems, along with .NET and Java.
"We know Microsoft’s decision to join OIN may be viewed as surprising to some, as it is no secret that there has been friction in the past between Microsoft and the open source community over the issue of patents," wrote Erich Andersen, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel at Microsoft, in a blog post.
"For others who have followed our evolution as a company, we hope this will be viewed as the next logical step for a company that is listening to its customers and is firmly committed to Linux and other open source programs."