Short cuts 67

by Paul Stephens

Paul Stephens takes a sideways look at the world of IT.

HardCopy Issue: 67 | Published: November 6, 2015


Top of the ‘irresistible’ pile this issue was the story headlined ‘Microsoft builds Operating System based on Linux’. Sadly this didn’t turn out to be a red-hot revelation about the kernel in Windows 11, but instead an item about the New Microsoft being a rather good citizen in the arcane world of datacentre switching systems, not only saying “let’s face it everyone, Linux is the best choice for a job like this” but also donating a hardware abstraction layer to the Open Compute Project (founded by, of all people, Facebook).

azure cloud switch

This kind of thing would never have been allowed in Steve Ballmer’s day.

We clearly live in interesting times: not that long ago we’d have thought that Microsoft building an OS on Linux was about as likely as Volkswagen fitting hastily-outsourced Hyundai diesel engines to its Golfs, but now the former has happened and, given recent events, we wouldn’t bet against the latter being announced by Christmas. Linux, of course, has a special place in Microsoft history as the bête noir of former CEO Steve Ballmer, who described it as “communism”, a label he didn’t intend as a compliment. Although Steve did grit his teeth long enough to allow Linux to be hosted on the Azure platform, there’s no way he’d ever have allowed the Red Menace to underpin anything with ‘Microsoft’ and ‘Operating System’ in its description, even if it had been camouflaged under the innocuously non-Windowish title of ‘Azure Cloud Switch’.

Call us swivel-eyed conspiracy theorists (If you insist – Ed), but here at Short Cuts we can’t help seeing the fingerprints of new CEO Satya Nadella all over this, as a golden opportunity to slam the door firmly shut on the Ballmer era presented itself. We can (feverishly) imagine the conversation over at Microsoft’s Azure Networking team HQ:

“So Satya, we need a bespoke OS for our Azure switches. The good news is that the new scalable Win 10 is a shoe-in for the job, and using it would reinforce Windows’ credentials in the embedded market, so everyone wins.”

Steve Ballmer Clippers shirt

Steve Ballmer may have a new career as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, but at least some of his spirit lives on at Microsoft.

“No, build it on Linux. Here’s a cover-mount DVD from ‘Linux Fanzine’ magazine with a distro from some startup in Albuquerque – rip the kernel out of that and we’ll deal with the legal stuff later. Then someone get me Steve Ballmer’s direct line at the LA Clippers – and Linux Fanzine’s email address.”

Poor Steve would be spinning in his grave if he had one, but he hasn’t (we’re glad to say), so the Clippers’ sin bin will have to do. And remember – you heard it first here at Short Cuts!


Organised chaos

It’s good to see that some of the organised chaos of the Ballmer era still survives at Microsoft, despite the new regime’s ruthless attempts to replace it with sensible cooperative strategies and other faddish ideas. For a good while now the company has been promoting its cloud-delivered Office 365 suite as the best way to make sure you’re always going to be up to date with the latest Office features and applications, but with the launch of Office 2016 this summer, things didn’t quite work out that way.

First to get Office 2016 – in boxes rather than from the cloud – were users of Mac OS X, which was something of a slap in the face to all those who’d stuck loyally with Windows through thick and, er, Vista and 8.0. The first Windows customers to experience 2016’s new features were those who bought boxed copies in late September, something of a slap in the face to people who’d subscribed to Office 365 on the promise of having first dibs at new Office features. And when the 365 download floodgates finally opened they turned out to be more of a rusty tap, with customers willing to wait for Microsoft to auto-update them told that they could still be waiting early next year (giving a literal, if unwelcome, meaning to the term ‘Office 2016’).

Office 2016 logo

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to this for Office 365 customers.

To compensate, Microsoft has told its Office 365 customers that it is ‘shifting the cadence’ of 365 updates so that in future they won’t have to wait for new Office editions at all, as new features will be released to them on a monthly basis. From some vendors that could be taken as meaning ‘we’re giving up beta testing’, but from New Microsoft we’re sure it doesn’t.

• The Spirit of Ballmer also survives over at the Visual Studio team, who recently announced a free Community edition of VS 2015 designed to appeal to community project developers, then immediately announced a free source code editor (VS Code, a fork of GitHub’s Electron) designed to appeal to community project developers even more. Top work, as is the continued availability of Visual Studio Online, which despite its name isn’t actually a version of Visual Studio, but instead a cloud-based edition of Team Foundation Server. Mad Dog would be proud.