Earlier this week I wrote a “what if” post suggesting that Microsoft buy Red Hat. The comments here and on Open Sources at InfoWorld were lively to say the least.

Many comments were a variation of the “wow, you’re clueless” theme. I approved every single one of these comments.

Some readers suggested that it would never happen because of the DoJ & EU. A valid point that I hadn’t even considered when I ended the post with:

“PS: I truly doubt this deal will ever happen, but it’s interesting to think about the possibilities.”

Private email discussions I had on the topic suggested that Microsoft’s culture would severely limit any hope of a positive outcome. Valid point. But corporate cultures evolve.

I was somewhat surprised by how strongly readers debated the very notion of such a deal based solely on Microsoft’s history towards open source. Don’t get me wrong, Microsoft has done plenty of clueless things in various open source areas. But, to judge the possible outcomes of a Red Hat acquisition based only on history is, I humbly suggest, missing the point. (Again, keep in mind that this acquisition will likely never happen, but stay with me for a second longer). For Microsoft to even consider this acquisition, they would have to dramatically change their historical views on open source. For companies like Microsoft, change is a lot easier than holding steadfast to outdated strategies.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. However, the impacts of a threat like open source are not felt overnight either. It’s taken Red Hat nearly 15 years to get to where they are today, and the open source movement has over 40 years under its belt. The results have not been industry shattering on either front. I am not minimizing the success of Red Hat or the open source movement by any means; I’m only putting them into perspective.

Sometimes we build deep rooted views about technologies and companies that don’t allow ourselves to consider situations in which the technologies or companies evolve. Is it really “clueless” to think that over the next 5 to 10 years Microsoft could increasingly adopt open source strategies into their broader corporate strategy?

While buying Red Hat may never happen, what if Microsoft launched a Linux distribution, maybe even based on RHEL? Ahh, but what about Microsoft patents and GPLv3. True, but what if Microsoft realized that the revenue potential from shipping “Microsoft Linux” is 2x or 10x the revenue potential from licensing their “Linux patents”? These are the types of decisions that companies like Microsoft make daily. The point isn’t whether Microsoft, its culture, or employees hate Linux/OSS. The point is that Microsoft, its culture and its employees are interested in the future success of the company and making as much money as they can. To date, Linux/OSS has been seen as a risk towards this goal for Microsoft. In the future, Linux/OSS may well be a driver towards this goal.

Change happens.

PS: The *most* surprising thing about my post is that Dave Rosenberg had a similar post encouraging Microsoft to buy JBoss and/or Novell….back in 2005. Sigh…and I thought I was an original thinker…. :-)

PPS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”