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Business Management

Microsoft's big Linux switch shows Nadella's openness strategy

I wonder if Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has read Lou Gerstner’s Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? where the former IBM CEO recalls how he turned around the fortunes of the American technology icon. A large part of Gerstner’s trick was to extend Big Blue’s reach in multiplatform software so that new and acquired middleware, database and other programs ran on Windows and Unix as well as its cash cow mainframes and OS/2 operating system. Now Microsoft has said it will release its SQL Server database software on Linux, delivering fresh evidence that in the Nadella regime openness will be a watchword.

It’s profitable to think back to the times of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer when the answer to pretty much any question a customer might ask would be ‘Windows’ and Microsoft seemed all but allergic to other operating systems. Such was its anathema that Ballmer once described Linux as “a cancer”.

But just as Gerstner made hard decisions about the failing OS/2, ever since Nadella became the leader at Redmond a new spirit has prevailed and the old shibboleths are not treated with much respect. A lesser leader might have plodded along with failing products like the former Nokia smartphone business and Windows Phone OS. Nadella seems far from wedded to such projects and Microsoft’s relationship with Apple is surely stronger than ever before.

Linux plays a starring role on the Azure cloud platform too and making one of its most successful server products available on the open source platform is a striking endorsement.

Gerstner took a flagging company that had lost its way and drove a new sense of urgency and realpolitik. Nadella appears to be doing the same.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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