Why MS Office for Linux is a win-win

Why MS Office for Linux is a win-win

Summary: It is in Microsoft's best interest to have a common MS Office source code easily ported to any OS. By focusing on Windows, Microsoft is leaving money on the table.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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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.

Topic: Microsoft

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203 comments
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  • One problem..

    With Office on Linux, Microsoft could possibly lose many Windows licenses. Why pay for XP for the people who only do typing, email, etc? In our company, I could remove XP Pro from about 20 out of 150 computers.
    Patrick Jones
    • The problem is

      that Microsoft users don't need to upgrade their OS or their office suit anymore. The current version allready does all they need and more. I find it very unlikely tha companies will upgrade to Vista until support is dropped for XP. That would be sometimes around 2011. Just look at how hard it was to get people to upgrade to XP. Even today win2k is the dominating desktop OS for corporate use.

      If Microsoft want to expand, they need to address additional platforms. If they don't expand into Linux now, their future possibility for expansion in that direction will be eaten by OpenOffice.org.
      The 1.1.x version of OOo had excelent compatibility with MS-Office and it have allready got about 10% of the market. The soon to be released version 2.0 is even more compatible.
      uno9
    • Yes the could ...

      ... and that's why MS needs to be two companies. The OS folks at MS are threatened by having Office available on Linux but the applications side of MS would benefit greatly from having Office (actually the entire product line) available for any OS on the market today! This approach keeps the wolves away should MacOSX, Linux, or Unix displace Windows as an OS.
      M Wagner
  • Forking is not necessarily good

    You're going to end up with different versions on different platforms, and different life cycles for each version. If your contention is that it doesn't matter which OS you're using as long as you can get your work done, I'd bet people will chose the OS that gives them the fastest rate of innovations and new feature sets. And I'll bet dollars to donuts that'll be Windows. Not only does the apple not fall far from the tree, it's still at least 85% of your target market.
    Real World
    • I'll take that bet!

      Except I want the donuts. You said:

      "I'd bet people will chose the OS that gives them the fastest rate of innovations and new feature sets"

      That's an easy one. Windows doesn't qualify for either of those, and it never would. Microsoft does roll out small feature enhancements in Windows Update, but the majority of new feature sets and "innovations" come from new releases, and we all know how often those come around. WinXP doesn't even have a majority of desktops among Windows releases, It's too expensive to upgrade, and way to difficult to install. New sales and big licensees make up the bulk of WinXP use.

      Apple's OSX easily outpaces Windows in that regard. And it is much easier to justify the purchase of a new release to OSX when you get a five user license for less than the price of a single copy of WinXP Home Edition. It's so simple to install, even a Mac user can do it (Cheap, good natured jab). If it weren't for the release of the Mini, that would be the only good thing I would have to say about Apple. They really need more sub $1000 systems equal to the G5. I'll trade in the fancy case for an ugly cheap case with performance any day.

      Since I am a Linux user, I won't even start. But you know what I would say...
      dingletec_z
      • I'm a Linux user, too

        as well as Windows. I'm saying that Microsoft will develop Office features first for it's Windows platform, then for any other Platforms (as has been evidenced with Office for Mac).
        Real World
        • Sorry, I misunderstood

          And I totally agree with you there. Same goes for IE and OE on the Mac. Which makes sense. They have a 60% profit margin on Office, and 40% on Windows. Why would they waste time developing software on operating systems with single digit market share and make millions when they can continue to bolster their monopoly and make billions off of their 95% market share.

          Not that I really care any more, I've been perfectly happy living without Windows and MS Office for about 8 years now. But temporarily resolving Windows problems pays the bills. I would prefer that clients use OpenOffice and pay me the difference, but it's not a perfect world.
          dingletec_z
      • I Still Find It Hard To Believe...

        ...that with about 5% of the desktops in the world, Mac enthusiasts still make claims like "Apple's OSX easily outpaces Windows in that regard."

        Who cares if it "outpaces Windows" in any regard? If so few people use it, it's irrelevant.

        (BTW, Jaguar automobiles outstrip any GM model in almost every performance category. Funny that I never even think of that when I'm going to buy a car).
        billaaa8
    • Hahaha ... that's a good one ....

      ``You're going to end up with different versions on different platforms, and different life cycles for each version. If your contention is that it doesn't matter which OS you're using as long as you can get your work done, I'd bet people will chose the OS that gives them the fastest rate of innovations and new feature sets. And I'll bet dollars to donuts that'll be Windows. Not only does the apple not fall far from the tree, it's still at least 85% of your target market.''

      as IF there are already no portability problems even among the various 1/2 cooked windows versions...

      In the long run MS CANNOT maintain the high numbers if ms windows as this plarform has offered more broken promises than any other one. Look at Longhorn erhhmm Vista dela Worma.

      If MS could compete on the basis of their good features/cost they would had already ported their appliation suite to other platforms and a decent performance/cost ration would guarantee success.

      But it is only a matter of time before large numbers of corporate users switch to something more reliable and then MS will go around begging to port its apps to other platforms.

      ``The all mighty 's/w giant' falling down like that? Impossible''. It's only a matter of time.
      michael_t
      • Not so much

        [i]"But it is only a matter of time before large numbers of corporate users switch to something more reliable and then MS will go around begging to port its apps to other platforms."[/i]

        Won't happen in your lifetime. Your kids, maybe.
        Real World
      • I See Absolutely No Evidence...

        ...that your prophecy is by any means coming to pass.

        We've been hearing this for twenty years now: "It's only a matter of time!"

        Sure, if you're used to thinking in geological epochs, I suppose it's true. It's only a matter of time till the motion of every subatomic particle ceases, after all.

        As long as the current "computing paradigm" continues, MS will dominate. That's just the way the market works. IBM dominated for years and years despite the best efforts of a myriad of competitors (many of whom also went the lawsuit route just as MS' competition has done).

        Until the computing paradigm shifted drastically away from mainframes running "proprietary" everything as it did in the late-80s and early-90s, IBM stayed on top.

        Actually, they still do well with their fragmented markets; they just don't depend on big iron any longer.

        Yes, you find a few "rebels" who are willing to stick their necks out to prove a point, but stand at the loading dock of any corporate business center anywhere, and watch when they unload the new PCs.

        They'll be running Windows 95%+ of the time. And it has been that way for fifteen years now, with no letup in sight.
        billaaa8
  • Solaris possibly, but not Linux

    Sorry, the GPL and the entanglements that go with it simply isn't something MS would be interested in.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • What entanglements are you talking about?

      If MS did a straight port of Office to Linux, then it remains closed-source and isn't subject to the GPL.

      If on the other hand, MS were to use GPL'ed code in their new version, then they would be subject to the GPL. Of course, that also applies to using GPL'ed code in any application for any OS including Windows.

      So, are you saying that MS programmers are unable to port Office to Linux without using GPL'ed code? And no, system calls don't count.
      Letophoro
      • Obviously you don't understand Office.

        When you install Office on a Windows there is a very large part of the OS that is replaced/modified. An example is the GDI++.

        To do that in Linux means touching the GPLed code in the OS. Something MS has repeatedly said they want nothing to do with.

        It would also mean they would have to release a good deal of code (required by the GPL) when they make these changes. Again, something they are 100% dead set against.
        No_Ax_to_Grind
        • Message has been deleted.

          toxicfreak
        • So in essentially

          Microsoft makes spaghetti code and uses all of it's products to exclude all but Microsoft from playing...

          But I call bullshyte, Macintosh has MS Office running on it. Works fine, doesn't re-write the OS or parts of it.
          Linux User 147560
          • Sorry you are wrong

            Do an install of MS Office on a Mac and see the changes in the OS yourself.
            No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Hey Mac users...

            since I don't have a Mac, can you support or debase this? Oh well I can use Google to get my answer to this.

            On another note, I still think it's bullshyte. You can have proprietary software on top of Linux. I use VMWare, it's proprietary and requires access to various portions of the kernel to function properly. I still say that it can be done. You really do not understand how the GPL works.

            One more time for your education:

            You can use hooks to talk to GPL code with no problem. You can have a 100% proprietary solution on top of GPL with no problem (see Oracle, VMWare, Moneydance, Adobe...)
            You can build an interface that is part GPL to communicate with 100% closed and 100% open code.

            You are the one that is wrong. Just because changes are made to an OS (which I am not so sure it is with FreeBSD Unix on the Macs) doesn't mean you cannot create a closed package.
            Linux User 147560
          • You're not listening

            Could MS start from scratch and completely re-write Office to force it to work on Linux? I am sure they could but it would NOT have the same graphic rich environment without making changes to the OS.

            Look at all the Windows emulators and how HORRIBLY they fail at running Offcie correctly. The reason, there are to many things missing.
            No_Ax_to_Grind
          • RE: You're not listening

            Hmmm, Crossover seems to be functioning just fine for me.
            Linux User 147560