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Is There Room for Microsoft at the Linux Table?

Is There Room for Microsoft at the Linux Table?

An ex-Microsoft employee set off minor pandemonium in the blogosphere with this proposition: What if Microsoft were to develop its very own Linux distro? "It's an interesting thought, but a continent would have to split and form a new ocean before Microsoft gains insight enough to dominate a Linux universe," said Slashdot blogger yagu.

By Katherine Noyes
11/09/09 4:00 AM PT

Well, the Karmic Koala may have ruffled a few feathers last week, if that Register article was anything to go by, but already the scales seem to be tipping back toward the positive side.

To wit: TuxRadar recently put Vista, Windows 7, Ubuntu 9.04 and 9.10 through their paces -- focusing in particular on boot speeds -- and the newborn marsupial proved itself to be a sprightly little thing.

Scores of comments met the review on TuxRadar; from there, it was picked up on Linux Pro Magazine and LXer, to name just a few.

"Finally an app that objectively logs boot times REAL boot times!" wrote viator on Lxer, for example. "And i see that Ubuntu booted almost twice as fast as win7 :P"

Skype Opening Up

FOSS aficionados had even more reason to cheer in recent days when word came out that Skype will soon be open sourced.

No fewer than 1,268 Diggs and hundreds of comments were drawn forth by Friday on *that* little tasty tidbit, not just on LinuxCrunch but on Slashdot and on Digg as well.

When Skype blogger Berkus confirmed the story, the excitement really took off.

The good news just keeps on coming!

Reality Bites Redmond

Over at Microsoft, of course, the news wasn't quite so good.

Layoffs were the watchword of the week in Redmond, as Mini-Microsoft reported on Wednesday, and some have been wondering if Android is at least partly to blame.

Hmm, food for thought, indeed.

Linux by Microsoft?

Even more interesting, however, was the notion -- suggested, incredibly, by a former Microsoft employee -- that Microsoft needs to come out with its own version of Linux.

Cough, cough, cough!!

Yes, you did read that right.

"I think we could all be running Microsoft Linux," former Microsoft Research employee Keith Curtis told Network World. "I sent an e-mail to Steve Ballmer about this and he said he wasn't interested...

"Microsoft could very easily dominate the Linux market if they wanted to," Curtis added.

'Makes Me Shiver'

Did bloggers jump all over that one? You bet your favorite hallucinogen they did -- those who didn't immediately go into cardiac arrest, that is.

Eleven full pages of comments greeted the interview on Network World, in fact, and those were soon joined by nearly 200 more over on Digg.

"Having trouble finding the idea of microsoft linux interesting," snipe123 wrote on Digg, for example. "Windows is making money, why would they want to stop?"

And from ocean17: "Something about the phrase 'Microsoft Linux' just makes me shiver."

Then again: "Linux domination? If anyone with a functioning brain kept reading after that, I feel sorry for you," chimed in newchap. "The title of this is simply...Disgruntled ex-Microsoft employee loses his mind."

'An Interesting Thought'

What say you, dear readers? Is this the stuff disturbed dreams are made of? Or is there something to it? Linux Girl took to the streets of the blogosphere to find out.

"It's an interesting thought, but a continent would have to split and form a new ocean before Microsoft gains insight enough to dominate a Linux universe," Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider. "Having once worked there, my experience -- and this is only an opinion -- was that Microsoft had some of the most brilliant people I ever met.

"Brilliance does not imply knowledge," yagu added.

'It Just Doesn't Fit'

Microsoft's greatest foe today is cultural, yagu asserted.

"Linux is about sharing. Linux is about learning," he explained. "Linux is about excellence above all else."

Contrast that with Microsoft's "need to dominate the entire market," he added. "Domination isn't about sharing; it isn't about learning. It could be about excellence, but when one has 90 percent of the market, excellence seems to be optional."

Microsoft "may be doomed because the market is shifting again, and Microsoft may not turn about quickly enough to recover -- as they did when Netscape lit up the Internet," yagu concluded. "But their shift won't be to Linux -- it just doesn't fit."

'Laughing Stock of the IT World'

Windows is doomed, Slashdot blogger drinkypoo told LinuxInsider.

"I don't think Windows 7 is going to stand out as the first version of Windows with poor uptake, even if you ignore Windows 7 Pre-Alpha (aka Windows Vista)," drinkypoo asserted. "Windows keeps foundering, and Linux keeps getting better."

Every time Microsoft "chokes on implementing important new functionality in Windows -- like the filesystem we were promised way back in Longhorn -- Linux catches up a bit more," he added.

As for Microsoft Linux, "that is of course one possibility," he said. "Another would be simply open sourcing Windows, but I can understand Microsoft's reluctance to do this in the face of their successful-to-date business strategy of embracing, extending, and purchasing litigation... and the likelihood that the code is a mishmash that would make them even more the laughing stock of the IT world.

"The likelihood of this future actually increases as more of Windows is rewritten as Managed Code," drinkypoo added.

'Why Rock the Boat?'

Not everyone agrees on that point, however.

"Windows 7 is a runaway hit; why would Microsoft want to change course now that Windows Vista has been sent to the WinME bin of failure?" Slashdot blogger hairyfeet countered.

"If MSFT ever wanted to switch, it would NOT -- I repeat NOT -- be to Linux, because they would have to deal with RMS and the 'Source Code or Nothing!' brigade," hairyfeet added. "If they ever decided to go that route, it would be MSFT BSD, where they could lock their code down on top of the free base, a la OSX."

On the other hand, "why bother?" hairyfeet asked. "Vista is dead, Windows 7 is nice, folks are happy -- why rock the boat?"

'30 to 50 Percent Is Quite Possible'

Of course, regardless of what Microsoft does, "GNU/Linux will never rule the world," blogger Robert Pogson opined.

"M$ can gradually reduce its prices for a long time to compete on price/features," he told LinuxInsider. "It will lose share suddenly in netbooks, but it will take a long time for many desktops and notebooks.

"I expect within a few years GNU/Linux will have a considerable share -- I doubt it will ever have 90 percent," he predicted, "but 30 to 50 percent is quite possible."

'MS Is in a Losing Position'

In the meantime, "the problem for Microsoft is that they need to keep coming up with compelling features to add to Windows to keep customers upgrading," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider.

"So far, all we have with Windows 7 is an interface borrowed from Apple, marginally better security and improved touch-screen support that's great as long as you don't mind fingerprints all over your monitor," Mack added.

"There just isn't a compelling reason to spend money upgrading to Win 7," he concluded. "Once we're at that point, open source has the advantage and MS is in a losing position."

An Opportunity Passed

That, of course, is to say nothing of its losing position in the mobile arena, where it's been all but left in the dust by iPhone and the ever-advancing Android Army.

Could Linux save Microsoft's bacon? If this were years ago -- before the community's ire at the behemoth had grown beyond all previously known bounds -- then maybe, just maybe, Linux Girl would suggest.

Today, however, that moment has passed. For Microsoft to find its way now, it's going to have to look somewhere else -- and fast.


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