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Microsoft Changing Tactics Towards Linux?

There’s been some talk this week related to Microsoft’s attitude/approach towards Linux. It seems to mostly stem from comments made by Bill Hilf,
director of platform technology strategy at Microsoft. In part his comments address the long existing speculation by some that Microsoft would try to control/disrupt Linux by putting out a Microsoft version of the open source UNIX-like operating system. The thinking goes something like this. Microsoft could put out a version of Linux which would be far more compelling to many than existing Linux distributions. Ignoring for a moment technical difficulties. They could include true Windows software support (something that projects like Wine/etc. can never hope to fully achieve) so that you could run any Windows application or library within that Linux OS. They could even bundle in many of the Windows-bundled applications, which would be compelling for many home and office users. They could even provide some level of live/human support for novices/pros. And they could do any/all of this while still setting a price that approached $0; they have the resources to afford the experiment/campaign. I think it’s fair to say we’ve seen Microsoft use their muscle, manpower, and means before. Whether it’s with their entry into the browser arena with Internet Explorer, their customizations of the Java virtual machine that many would argue severely affected Java’s success in the applet arena, or their browser/media player integration into the OS. It all seems plausible enough that they could by some strategy like this seek to divert large segments of the IT community who rely upon Linux mostly out of cost considerations, and who would eagerly turn to a solution which addressed that and gave them greater interoperability with Windows. Anyway, that’s been at the heart of many people’s theories that MS might do such a thing. Apparently Bill Hilf addressed that issue (more or less), and while I don’t read it as a categorical denial that it could ever happen and hasn’t ever been discussed, he certainly treats the issue as though it’s not something they’ve seriously considered or expect to do.

Also, a number of things were said which seem to suggest that Microsoft is giving up on their “ignore Linux” strategy, and is beginning to increase support for interoperability with Linux. One sign of this is that their Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 SP1 will support Linux, a feature they had specifically removed from the product once it was bought from Connectix in 2003. Virtual PC was the previous incarnation of the product, and soon after buying the company, Microsoft eliminated from it support for FreeBSD, OS/2, NetWare, Solaris and Linux, leaving only Windows and Macintosh support. So their re-enabling support for Linux is a marked change of course for the product, and perhaps for Microsoft.

Anyway, for more on some of the changes in Microsoft’s approach to Linux read the PC World article entitled Microsoft Warms Up to Linux.

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