In our open source blog, Dana Blankenhorn asks an important question which Microsoft ought to be asking itself: Would you buy MS Office for Linux? Let's go back a few years, to the antitrust suit brought about by the DoJ under the Clinton administration...
The initial decree (by Judge Jackson) was for Microsoft to be broken up. I expect that, had that happened, Bill Gates would be even richer than he is today. Why? Simply because an independent applications-only arm of Microsoft would have asked Dana's question years ago. At some level, the marriage of the MS suite of applications to the operating system is arbitrary and intended to add value to the OS -- not the other way around. After all, it is what we do with our computers that matters to us, not which OS we are using. The great strength of the Microsoft consumer marketing model is that it is one-stop shopping. But, this model has its limitations -- as Microsoft is beginning to find out.
In Dana's example, he suggests that under the scenario that MS Office has been ported to Linux, the cost of MS Office might still be $500, but I doubt it. Let's say that today Microsoft makes, on average, X dollars per copy of Office. The value of X comes from the number of copies sold to OEMs at Y dollars and the number of copies sold to you and I at $500. More likely than not, the OEM price is well under $100. In a world where Microsoft applications are available for Linux, the promise of cross-platform compatibility would likely increase the number of interested OEMs and high-volume enterprise customers dramatically while the number of non-Microsoft end-users who switch would be small by comparison (at least initially). As the number of OEMs and enterprise customers goes up, the retail price need not stay at $500 in order for Microsoft to continue to earn X dollars per copy.
Consider that a port to Linux is also essentially a port to Unix -- with some minor tweaking perhaps. Since all of big OS players in the world are selling some flavor of either Unix (Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, Irix, SCO Unix, etc), FreeBSD (MacOSX, others?) or Linux (RedHat, SuSE, Debian, Linspire, JDS, etc), a port to one of them is essentially a port to all of them.
Microsoft's partnership with Sun, coupled with their recent acquisition of a Unix SVR4 license from SCO, might be an indicator that they are starting to get the picture.
The fact that Apple has announced that they are moving to an Intel-based (read x86-based) platform makes the porting of MS Office to four major Intel-based operating systems simultaneously (Linux, MacOSX, Solaris for Intel, SCO Unix) just that much more straightforward than the independent development effort currently employed for MS Office:X.
In the end, it is in Microsoft's best interest to have a common MS Office source code which is easily ported to any OS -- and the same goes for the rest of the MS suite of applications. By focusing on Windows, Microsoft is leaving money on the table and they don't even know it!
C. Marc Wagner is Services Development Specialist at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.