The Linux monkey on Microsoft's back

It's not simply Linux's notoriety that makes it a continued sore spot for Microsoft

Microsoft continues to find itself caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the-little-operating-system-that-could.

While Microsoft execs seem to have been hoping that if they ignored Linux it would just go away, that's not going to happen. Not when Microsoft's other/better half, Intel, continues to throw investment money at just about every Linux distribution company. Nor when any white-box vendor that attaches its star to Linux sees its valuation rise nearly 800 percent on its IPO day.

But it's not simply Linux's notoriety that makes it a continued sore spot for Microsoft. Microsoft can't free itself from Linux's clutches because it continues to issue confused messages regarding Linux.

The company still is vacillating between two opposite poles. One, that Linux is not a real competitor- as Microsoft claims on its Linux myths Web page; and two, that Linux is poised to do real damage to Microsoft-as its Department of Justice defenders claim every chance they get. Add to this the fact that folks like Steven Sinofsky, VP of Office, admit to running Linux on desktops and give wishy-washy answers when asked whether Microsoft will ever port its desktop suite to Linux, and you've got true confusion.

Microsoft creates even more problems for itself by refusing to make token gestures that might appease at least some of the Linux advocates. I'm not talking about anything as monumental as putting Windows and/or its programming interfaces into open source. Just something simple, like refunding Linux and other non-Windows users the cost of their Windows licenses during last February's Linux Refund Day (and then donating that money to charity), would give Microsoft some much-needed PR relief.

If Microsoft truly believes its products are technically superior to others', why does it need to force Windows, Office and Visual Basic down the throats of future developers? Why does it taunt the open-source community with stunts like inviting open-source advocate Eric Raymond to speak at the Microsoft campus?

Don't get me wrong: Open-source advocates are not angels when it comes to baiting Microsoft and its developers, integrators and customers. Contributors to open-source forum are quick to jump on any anti-Microsoft rumour and hype it without first checking whether their information is right (or even close).

Given that environment, what's Microsoft to do? Should it port its desktop and server applications to Linux? Encourage its consulting organisation to integrate Linux and Windows, and publish guidelines for doing so? Or continue to pray that Linux slips on its own banana peel?

Take me to the Linux Lounge.