Those that have been in the IT industry since the 1990’s were justifiably perplexed when Microsoft’s public pronouncements about Linux went from Linux possibly being carcinogenic around the turn of the century to full throated embrace a decade and a half later.

Many of us, who in the 1990’s had professionally drunk Microsoft’s Windows NT Kool Aid and fought battles for homogeneous Redmondian operating system purity, were a little lost. Microsoft has made endless pronouncements about its adoration of Linux over the last 18 months, yet the release of the most recent version of Windows Server, Windows Server 2016, went by without much, if any, real public enthusiasm from the company’s evangelism apparatus. Microsoft Loves Linux and isn’t really talking about Windows Server anymore.

So what happened and what does this all mean?

As usual I’m not going to reveal any deeply held secret truths, I’m instead going to instead indulge in another bout of my own hypothetical speculation. (Ergo, you have been disclaimed)

Cloudy Futures

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last few years, you know that Microsoft is “all in” when it comes to the public cloud. For many, the public cloud itself is synonymous with the current leader in that space in terms of revenue as well as number of hosted workloads: Amazon’s AWS. Naturally, if Microsoft wants to take the lead in terms of revenue as well as number of hosted workloads in the public cloud, they’ll need to be the first choice to host the type of workloads that Amazon’s AWS is hosting.

According to The Cloud Market’s stats (http://thecloudmarket.com/stats#/by_platform_definition), when it comes to workloads hosted in Amazon, Ubuntu, RedHat, Centos and “Linux” account for around 330,000 EC2 workloads. Windows comes in at around 30,000 workloads.

So, if you want to become the leader in the cloud market and you’re looking at what operating system is being run as IaaS VMs in the cloud on the market leader’s platform, you’ll quickly recognize that it’s basically 90% Linux and around 10% Windows.

If Microsoft is going to become the leader of the cloud market in terms of revenue and workloads hosted, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Azure will end up with IaaS hosting statistics that look a lot like Amazon’s. AWS is what the cloud market is, not what we might, as those inculcated in the Microsoft ecosystem, wish it to be. In terms of what Azure looks like now, according to Microsoft, around 30% of VMs running in Azure run Linux ( https://news.microsoft.com/bythenumbers/azure-virtual ). That’s a long way from being 90% Linux.

Go Where The Puck Will Be

Public perception is that if you want to run a Microsoft workload, Azure’s probably the place you want to run it. What Microsoft needs the public perception to also become is that if you want to run a Linux workload, Azure’s also the place that you want to run it. Rather than talk up their experience with hosting and running Windows Server operating systems, Microsoft has to make it clear to everyone who is willing to listen that they have a great home for Linux. That Linux isn’t a second class citizen in Azure, but a first class platinum citizen of Azure. That Microsoft Loves Linux.

Because if prospective customers don’t believe that Microsoft loves Linux, that those that want to run Linux workloads believe that Microsoft still holds out a candle for Windows Server becoming dominant in the cloud (as they kinda appear to hold out a candle that Windows Phone will somehow bounce back), then people aren’t going to consider them a serious contender for Linux IaaS VM hosting and Amazon’s AWS will remain the market leader.

As the learned philosopher Wayne Gretsky is known to have said, you go to where the puck will be rather than where it is or where you might wish it to be. Windows Server is a fantastic operating system. It does all kinds of amazing stuff. I love it and just wrote a huge book about it. But what the people who are adopting the public cloud in droves are using is Linux, which means that Microsoft has to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that it’s all in when it comes to Linux as well if it wants those people to run their Linux workloads in Azure.

Pragmatism

One of Microsoft’s core ideologies is relentless pragmatism (don’t look at that Windows Phone behind the curtain). It’s why Windows Subsystem for Linux now allows you to run almost every Linux tool on a Windows 10 computer. Microsoft love Linux so much, that it’s integrating it into Windows 10 so that developers that use Open Source toolkits will have a home in the Windows ecosystem in the same way that they’ve had a home in the OSX ecosystem. Linux runs really well on Hyper-V and Linux containers run on Windows Server alongside Windows Server and Hyper-V containers.

Microsoft Still Loves Windows

Microsoft Loving Linux doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t love Windows. But to make sure that everyone gets the message about loving Linux, Microsoft’s probably not going to talk much about Windows for the foreseeable future. Winning over a deeply skeptical Linux community is going to take a substantial amount of time and that’s only going to happen if Microsoft appears to be 100% committed to Linux.