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Wishing won't make Linux split, Microsoft

Linux will split into incompatible factions, says Microsoft. How can the company hope to compete when it doesn't understand the new environment?
Written by Leader , Contributor

Pay attention, world. Microsoft thinks Linux is unsafe. Because as Nick McGrath, head of platform strategy at Microsoft, told us on Friday, Linux will fragment as people jockey for competitive advantage. Look what happened to Unix.

This is a sea change in Microsoft policy. Until now Linux has been bad because it's non-commercial, almost un-American in its cooperative nature. Now we see that competition is bad, because it encourages people to differentiate products. No cooperation, no competition? It's almost as if the company is saying that the only safe software is that imposed by dictat. Surely not.

There is no doubt that Unix's history of splitting into mutually antagonistic fiefdoms helped the Microsoft empire grow. It would be very good news for Microsoft if Linux were to do the same. Unfortunately, the world seems ill-disposed to organise itself on that basis these days.

The degree of interoperability within Linux and with non-Linux products is formidable. Not only is it much easier to create and maintain this in open source software than in closed systems, it is in everyone's interests. The business model has moved on from selling expensive operating systems: it's what you do with them that matters. Flexibility, openness, interconnectivity are essential -- and mandated, by the nature of open source licensing. Breaking away would be suicidal, were it possible. Compatibility is a law of nature here.

At some point, Microsoft will have to come to terms with reality. People are prepared to co-operate with their rivals – at least, those people who look like rivals in the old mindset -- because to do so creates a better environment in which to build complex systems and sell services. Not only is this sound commercial and practical sense, but it's intellectually satisfying to make such things happen -- a motivational factor that once drove Microsoft but which now is as alien to the company as the surface of Titan. As long as the company keeps demonstrating that it is living in the past, there is no danger of that changing any time soon.

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