The way time and technology changes is always interesting. Our ability to look back in time lets us find some real irony in what happens later on, when someone ends up being off the mark. To that end, I give you a story I read today and a related story from a couple of weeks ago.

About 15 years or so ago, a partnership of any kind between Red Hat and Microsoft would be unthinkable. Many in the open source community would go bonkers, thinking Red Hat has sold out. But reality is a little more complicated, as is often the case.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the ReDev B0st0n Conference, a great time. (To find out just how great it was for me, I wrote not one, not two, but three entries on it that you can check out.) Along the way, I met someone who works for Microsoft. He told a presenter that he works for Microsoft and is on the same page with them, but likes seeing ideas from outside of there. As we talked leaving the room, I noted that I work for Wind River back when they were saying the same thing about Linux in embedded systems that Microsoft said about Linux on the desktop, and ironically, Wind River is now a Linux champion (and he quickly noted that Microsoft became one, albeit later and to a lesser degree).

The basic message from both was that Linux may be free, as opposed to an operating system you pay for, but properly customizing and configuring it will eat into any savings you get in the form of more man-hours. It might have sounded good in theory, and it seemed to hold up for a while. But by about the middle of the last decade, Linux had gained a big foothold in embedded systems, then continued on the desktop.

When Wind River jumped in, it was big news, though not so much from a mainstream perspective simply because the embedded systems industry is not as well-known as the PC industry is. It was the biggest sign that Linux had overcome any belief that using it was too challenging and, by extension, costly. For embedded systems, Linux was not too big/bulky; it could be configured to work well for many, especially soft real-time systems (where a missed deadline would not have catastrophic consequences). The idea that Linux would cost too much money, just not up front, was no more.

Microsoft’s partnership with Red Hat is not about the operating systems very much. It’s more about cloud technology, as well as Red Hat supporting some of its products on Microsoft technologies. The Triangle Business Journal notes that customers are driving this as well. It’s not one of the two companies thinking they need to partner with the other just because, and that would make no sense. A company that succeeds produces what customers want.

Part of why this isn’t as much of a big deal as it might have been once upon a time is that it doesn’t touch Linux. There’s a good reason for it: Linux is not a big moneymaker for Red Hat now. That ship has sailed. Red Hat may have been known first and foremost for Linux, but now they are a highly diversified software company with many product offerings.

Linux has what users and developers need, including with embedded systems. It has enough flexibility with the GNU Public License (GPL) that it allows a company to do what they desire when they use it, whether they want their own proprietary code or are just fine with releasing the source to the public. This has been proven over time, including with two big competitors now embracing it to varying degrees.

The technology has evolved, and now Microsoft and a leading Linux vendor are playing nice. Thankfully, it’s not about two decades ago, so this isn’t getting a lot of people fired up in a bad way. Technology can make for unexpected partners, and that’s one more part of the beauty of it all.

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