This Tiny Team Inside Microsoft Is Playing Huge Role In Software Giant's Open Source Revolution


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Microsoft's stance on open source technology has changed dramatically since the days when Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer treated Linux like a verbal punching bag, and 24-year company veteran Mark Hill has had a front row seat to the vendor's philosophical transformation. 
 
As Microsoft's vice president of open source sales and marketing, Hill leads a group of nearly 50 employees tasked with getting more customers moving open source workloads into the Azure cloud. Hill's team -- known internally as OSS, short for open source software -- is also playing a big role in driving CEO Satya Nadella's "mobile-first, cloud-first" vision. 
 
"The focus of my team now is to enable Microsoft to attract all customer workloads onto our cloud platform, regardless of whether that software is first-party Microsoft or open source software," Hill said in a recent interview. "Regardless of what the platform is, we want to show them how to run it in Azure."
 
 
The early returns on the OSS team's efforts appear promising. Currently, 1 in 4 virtual machines on Azure are running Linux, and Hill said that ratio is on track to soon reach 1 in 3 VMs. In addition, around 60 percent of Azure Marketplace images are now based on Linux, he said. 
 
But there's still work left to do inside Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft to get everyone on the same page. Hill said his team is also in charge of training some 45,000 Microsoft sales and marketing employees in how to talk about open source software with customers. 
 
"We create training and our people roll it out to every single [sales and marketing] employee," Hill said. "We have spoken with every general manager of every Microsoft subsidiary and walked them through details of how to talk about Microsoft's open source commitment. And every enterprise sales lead, and people in other key roles, have been trained in how to talk about open source."
 
Chris Hertz, CEO of New Signature, a Washington, D.C.-based Microsoft partner, told CRN that Microsoft's embrace of open source technology is benefiting both consumers and partners.  
 
"From partnering with Red Hat to providing Office on iOS and Android devices, Microsoft has demonstrated they are excited about delivering great mobile-first, cloud-first experiences and solutions to their customers that take advantage of the broadest range of available technologies," said Hertz in an email. "It is a bold new world for Microsoft [and one] that makes them more competitive." 
 
Microsoft's OSS team has undergone a dramatic shift in recent years. It used to be called the worldwide Commercial Software Initiative (CSI) and was in charge of competing with Linux and other open source technologies. CSI was formed during the heyday of Microsoft's Get The Facts campaign against Linux, which ran from 2002 to 2007, although Hill didn't join until early 2014. 
 
While CSI has been moving in an open source-friendly direction for the past several years, Hill told CRN in a May 2014 interview that Microsoft was still competing with OpenOffice in the desktop productivity software market, and with open source software in general in emerging markets.
 
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