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CERN want to see if it can operate with mostly open source software to “take back control”

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Microsoft and Linux used to be sworn enemies back in the day, but rest assured, through no fault of the latter – in fact, Linux participated in the “feud” simply by existing.

It was the Redmond-based closed-source behemoth that in the past went after open source software in general, and Linux in particular, under this chilling, “triple E” motto: “Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish.”

But in the fullness of time, what happened is Microsoft “extending towards and embracing” Linux – with Linux getting anything but “extinguished” in the process.

Not only does the backbone of the entire web today run almost exclusively on Linux – but it is now also a crucially important component in Microsoft’s own infrastructure and services, especially the successful ones, like the Azure Cloud.

And a recent decision of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) certainly seems to be lending its seal of approval to the conclusion that Linux has won this protracted David and Goliath software battle. Not only on technical merit – or because of ethics – but also on cost.

What happened here is that the Switzerland-based CERN – who run such massive scientific projects as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – has been declared by Microsoft as “not an academic institution” – a decision designed to make CERN pay a full price for Microsoft products.

A CERN blog post made this sentiment known in far more verbose, and certainly more diplomatic terms – but the essence remains the same: Microsoft’s products are no longer good value for money after the latest license fee cost increase – specifically, “by more than a factor of ten” – and CERN would like to replace them, ASAP.

The blog post seems to lament the error of past choices, too, when CERN benefited from commercial actors granting them special scientific status, a kind of a “gateway drug”:

“Once installed, well-spread and heavily used, the leverage used to attract CERN service managers to the commercial solutions tends to disappear and be replaced by licensing schemes and business models tuned for the private sector.”

But now, CERN said, the goal is to “put us back in control using open software.”

CERN is no stranger to Linux: in the past they developed and maintained the Scientific Linux OS – only to hand it over to the US-based Fermilab, where it eventually languished and died to be replaced by CentOS – a de-branded, i.e. “community” version of Red Hat Linux, a company that is now a property of IBM.

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