Microsoft changes tack over Linux

The software giant, which makes no secret of its contempt for the open-source development model, will exhibit its embedded offerings at the LinuxWorld show and begin a 'dialogue'

Microsoft appears to be changing its tactics in its ongoing spat with the Linux and open-source world by taking a booth at this August's LinuxWorld Expo for the first time.

The Windows giant has never ignored the Linux show, often sending executives along to scope out the terrain and pitch Microsoft's point of view, but it has never taken the step of renting a booth. Senior executives, including chairman Bill Gates, have long preferred a more caustic form of engagement with open source and its underlying philosophy, calling it a "cancer" and arguing that "Free Software" goes against everything that capitalism stands for.

On Tuesday, however, Microsoft finalised its plans for establishing a small presence in the "Rookery" area of the conference, which showcases first-time exhibitors. On display will be Microsoft's embedded offerings, including Windows CE .Net and Windows XP Embedded; the former is aimed at handheld devices, and the latter is a modular form of Windows XP that can be customised for everything from cash registers to Internet fridges.

Microsoft has not exactly taken a conciliatory tone in confirming its LinuxWorld Expo presence, but it has scaled back the hostile language.

"Microsoft will be... discussing many offerings for the developer community with the goal of educating developers who may not be familiar with our products, and engaging in interesting dialogue about Windows Embedded and its comparisons to Linux offerings," the company said in a statement provided to journalists.

Microsoft will occupy booth R10, according to LinuxWorld Expo's Web site.

Last August Doug Miller, director of competitive strategy for Microsoft's Windows division, attended the show and said that the company has learned and benefited from the rival operating system.

Linux's success in low-end servers led the company to revise its server product line, Miller said. And Microsoft learned that it needs better interactions with the programmers who use Microsoft products.

However, Miller said that Microsoft would not loosen control over the underlying source code of its software, which he said introduces "perpetual unpredictability". The open-source licences that govern Linux and other Free Software require that developers are free to modify and redistribute the source code, as long as the modified versions are themselves open-source.

Microsoft has a long track record of attempting to upstage the events of its direct competitors. For example, at this year's Symbian Developer Expo in London, Microsoft stationed staff outside the venue to distribute CD-ROMs promoting its rival Pocket PC operating system.

CNET's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.

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