What If Microsoft 💔 Windows?

Colleague Orin Thomas recently posted a Tweet about all the “Microsoft ❤️ Linux” fervor that’s been running around recently, noting that it’d be easy for a Windows admin to start wondering if they’d gotten on the wrong bus at some point. For me, it’s an interesting discussion.

Now, don’t take any of the following as a serious proposal – it isn’t. Think of this article as more of a fun thought experiment, one that will have zero impact on the real world. Don’t get upset with me – we’re just pulling a thread here, not planning out the world’s future.

So, let’s ask ourselves…

Could Microsoft ditch Windows Server?

Some rules for the discussion:

  • This isn’t about “should they,” or “will they,” because I don’t think they will. Taking this question too seriously will make this not-fun ;).
  • This also isn’t about Windows client, which has a different place in the universe.

So imagine for a moment that Microsoft pulled together their own Linux distro, perhaps forking some popular one like CentOS or Ubuntu or something. Such a distro wouldn’t need a built-in GUI, because Windows Server – in 2016’s Nano – is already moving away from having a GUI anyway.

So, without “Windows,” what would Microsoft be missing?

  • Exchange Server doesn’t run on Linux, but it’s about to not run on Windows, either, as Microsoft inexorably pushes toward Exchange as an online-only offering.
  • SQL Server doesn’t run on Linux, either oops, yes it does.
  • SharePoint Server doesn’t run on Linux… but honestly, there’s little reason it couldn’t. It’s just a website, and it uses SQL Server as a back-end. Microsoft is also gradually pushing this toward an online service, although less aggressively given the amount of local storage many organizations use.
  • AD doesn’t run on Linux, but Microsoft is also slowly setting up the path away from that as a dedicated on-prem offering, too, moving instead toward distributed, federated identity. And Linux already supports Kerberos, which is the underlying protocol for AD.
  • PowerShell and DSC both run on Linux now, albeit in somewhat abbreviated fashion – but that support will build out over time, just as it did on Windows.

Those’re the biggest reasons, from a purely Microsoft worldview, to run Windows Server – and they point toward a world where, for those things, we could perhaps get by without Windows. Oh, I know, we’ve all got a jillion other apps we run on Windows Server, but I’m also not seriously suggesting Microsoft is actually going to ditch Windows Server in favor of a Linux distro. Not at all! But you do start to see that Microsoft is hitching their fortunes less tightly to a specific OS – while at the same time continuing to evolve that OS to be a more effective datacenter competitor. Because I do think Win2016 is a better datacenter competitor. The difference is that Microsoft acknowledges that the OS needs to earn its place in the datacenter, and other products should be able to compete on their own merits, without the direct tie to a specific OS. The OS stands on its own (and I do think Win2016 does a stellar job of that).

But is there a serious real-world takeaway for you, as a Windows admin? You bet. Diversify. It’s easy enough to future-proof your career by making sure you can administer whatever your organization takes a shine to.

Whatcha think?

9 thoughts on “What If Microsoft 💔 Windows?

  1. tmarsland (@tmarsland)

    Well thought out post about the future, for sure. I like what I’ve seen out of Microsoft over the past few years, especially with Powershell, DSC, and their move towards more open-source and more open support of other operating systems. It’s been a joy, really.

  2. Frank

    I used to be a Windows sysadmin ever since Windows NT 3.51 and used to hold an MCSE certification… but ever since I switched to Linux… I never looked back. From a broad-range sysadmin experience, converting to Linux is not that hard, but does take dedication though. I have yet to see a Windows server with the kind of performance, stability and uptime a Linux server can achieve in a production environment.

  3. Joel Reed (@AKAJoelReed)

    Glad you said it. I don’t think Windows is going away anytime soon and I think Windows 2016 (and by extension Azure) have a tremendous upward trajectory as a competitive and viable platform.

    However and BUT I think the days of “Linux System Administration” and “Windows System Administration” as mutually exclusive roles are going away and we are already down that path a ways if people are paying attention. “System Administration” or whatever permutation or spin you want to put on it, DevOps Engineer, Systems Reliability Engineer, etc. Those administrators will have backgrounds that focus them onto the Linux or Windows systems and fill roles on a team but you’ll be using tools and technologies that are universal in the problems they solve. You’ll use Git, Chef, Puppet, Docker, SSH and increasing PowerShell (VMware shops will be the biggest cross platform users out of the gate), Python, Ruby, etc. The apps you support with these tools will lie on Linux or Windows. The “stack” of apps you support for your businesses are going to be a little of this and a little of that. However you and your team will use the same set of tools regardless of the composition of the “stack”.

    I’m curious to see how this plays out in the traditional Windows space. I’ve spent the last 9 or 10 years watching people dismiss the importance of PowerShell in the Windows realm. You need to be aware of the tides in a technology career or wind up unprepared and on the rocks. Heterogeneous computing is here to stay, and rigid specialization will not be your best choice going forward.

  4. Vytas

    Windows, Linux, IOS, Unix, does that really matters?
    I think no, what really matters, to provide to the developers swift stable, supported platform to run their applications. It looks for me the same way, as for hardware vendor that would be only Dell or HP, does it help, that for running windows you would be forced to pick the Lenovo server, and only Lenovo? Would it be a lot of happy people? – doubt that. We have a free of choice for hardware to run the operating system. Why we cannot have free of choice to have the operating system to run our code. Net app on Linux or to run php on windows? This line is fading away. Hardware became a commodity, OS is going to the same place. Never lockin yourself into hardware, never lockin in operating system. Think broader and adopt new things. I am glad that Microsoft understood, that open-source is a awesome and community drive the innovation. Microsoft not dropped Windows servers, they have moved it from the top, as business wants the applications, not the OS, not the hardware.

  5. sybunity

    Abstraction seems to be the key word. You really have to be able to manage, architect,develop a complete cloud platform e.g. AWS or Azure environments and have good all round knowledge (especially with more traditional developer tools and languages). Load balancers, networking, identity, firewalls, Server OS’s and applications – its all in the mix now. This makes it an interesting place for those who are willing to learn new skills and adapt.

  6. Manoj Nair

    Let’s say you are a Windows Administrator and you are concerned about its future, you will hear from everyone to start learning Linux. So you grab a book or a video course on Linux, start spending weeks on learning how Linux boots and then learn package management, command line, networking…. etc etc…

    Now, step back and think for a moment, didnt you do this 9 or 10 years ago when you started your career as a Windows Admin. I agree that both differ a lot in terms of booting / management but isn’t it still System Administration…

    The future is plain and simple, You write a piece of code, give it to AWS / Azure / Any Cloud Provider and they will run it on Docker based containers without you worrying about how the underlying infrastructure works.

    The future is automated release pipelines.

    If you are a SysAdmin, don’t spend time learning management, start automating!

    Future is Serverless Computing / Serverless Datalake…and the list goes on..

    So what should you do?

    I would say … Learn JavaScript!!

    Learn JavaScript, use NodeJS to write automation via Lambda / Azure Functions…. Build amazing web apps using Node / Express.., learn React, Angular, use Node.JS to manage IOT devices..

    One language to practically do everything…!!!

    In all honesty, you will enjoy learning JavaScript than learning how Linux boots!

    My two cents…

  7. Biggb

    IMO: It makes sense for MSFT to create a new OS from ground up, ditching insecure legacy software needs.

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