Leader: Microsoft afraid of Linux? Not likely...

In its filing last week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Microsoft said it sees Linux as a major threat to the continued dominance of Windows. I don't buy it.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

If you accept Microsoft's claim at face value, you might conclude that Microsoft is actively seeking ways to emulate the free-software model that's allowed Linux to capture an increasing number of hearts and minds. In spite of a brief attempt to capitalise on the appeal of open source code by Microsoft president Steve Ballmer, there are no indications that Microsoft's thinking about opening up access to its source code. In fact, in recent months, both AT&T and Bristol Technology have opted to sue Microsoft for allegedly failing to fulfill its contractual obligations by supplying them with source. Source code openness doesn't seem high on Microsoft's agenda.

If you still insist on believing that Microsoft is actually afraid of Linux, you might conclude that it's investigating ways to cash in on the Linux phenomenon. But the possibility of Microsoft doing ports of SQL Server, Exchange, Office or any other Microsoft apps to any operating systems other than Microsoft's own (with the minor exception of Apple's MacOS), seems remote. And any kind of investment or purchase in a Linux or open source vendor by Microsoft seems laughable. Microsoft hasn't issued any press releases lately highlighting its recruitment of a top Linux executive or its displacement in a key account of Linux by NT. If Linux really might dampen Windows and NT sales, wouldn't Microsoft be hard at work developing a Linux clone designed to splinter the market, as it did with Java, for example? Or wouldn't it at least be readying its own better-late-than-never competitor as it did in the browser realm?

Microsoft has an undisputable case of Unix envy, but it's Solaris, SCO Unix, HP-UX and AIX that Microsoft is targeting, not Red Hat Linux or Caldera OpenLinux. Linux lovers: don't flame me. I am not discounting the fact that Linux is the only version of Unix that's actually gaining market share right now, according to research estimates. I am not disputing that Linux has got a strong and vocal following among resellers and users. I am not dismissing the importance of investments by Netscape, Oracle, Informix, Sybase, IBM and the impressive list of companies jumping on the Linux bandwagon as of late.

But how much of this fervor is simply the members of the good, old Anyone-But-Microsoft movement hoping and praying that some company -- any company -- will rise up to give Microsoft a run for its money? I'd also remind anyone who has somehow managed to forget that coalitions, especially those involving Unix players, have succumbed to repeated untimely deaths. Do you really want IBM, Oracle and Netscape running Linux?

And to those who hold up Intel's recent discovery of the importance of Linux as indisputable proof that Microsoft's empire will crumble as a result of Linux domination, I'd offer a more cynical take. I'd suggest that Intel is engaged in a major publicity campaign to distance itself from Microsoft, while behind the scenes, it's business as usual for the Wintel duopoly. If it takes a little investment in Red Hat to throw the FTC off in its antitrust investigation of Intel, that's a small price for Intel to pay.

Am I missing something? Do you see any verifiable signs that Microsoft fears the Linux wolves at the door? Or is this just wishful thinking?

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