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.

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 (Nasdaq: MSFT), 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 (Nasdaq: AAPL), 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.


  • This is an age old dispute… Microsoft is not likely to move into the Linux world as it would have to sacrifice some of its profit margin to make it work.
    If, in the unlikely event that Microsoft DID make this move, it would be pointless as most Linux users would not trust the distro to stay available. Not to mention that fact, but if the distro was released with the same attention to detail that Windows is is currently released with, it would be an insecure, unstable nightmare.
    Just my two coppers!

  • I agree that it might not be bad idea for Microsoft at this point in time. With Google and Apple breathing in their neck, both of them with their own operating system based on Unix/Linux it might even be a logical step.
    A Windows “shell” running on Linux .. Faster, smaller and cheaper but with the same look and feel that so many people are already used to. I would go for it, at least give it a try.
    And wouldn’t it be nice to run the same MS Office on Linux and a Mac ?

  • For several years I have referred to myself as
    “a Microsoft user for Linux”.
    I have gone to a lot of trouble to rid myself of Microsoft products.
    (Trust me, life is easier this way.)
    Having Microsoft attempt a Linux package would mean
    one less Linux vendor for me to consider.
    (Meaning that I wouldn’t buy anything from Microsoft unless there was no other product on the market AND I couldn’t live without what the product would do for me.)

  • MS could create a Linux distro. Some would probably even use it.
    There are no technical or license reasons preventing it.
    But I can not see a business reason for them to do it. They will simply not make money on it.

  • From a Branding Standpoint, that would be the ultimate concession that their product in not #1, does not really work, and would 100% completely and totally undermine their brand. Want to give Linux the credibility that it so long has sought? That would do it right there. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot! All of the Linux distros would welcome this move with open coffers. WJ

  • It’s an old Microsoft strategy.
    Embrace, Extend, Destroy.

  • Even if they did, what could they offer that other Linux distros do not? The nature of the GPL will prevent them from developing a proprietary window manager like Apple did with BSD unless they bought one of the independent X server companies and built it on that from the ground up.
    People have asked for a Linux version of Office to buy for years, but MS has always said no. Given that most of their income is from Office, they will not expand their market for it by making a version that any Linux can run because once that becomes common, then what reason do people have to run Windows?

  • Microsoft is already moving its resources to focus on the server and cloud-based office.
    I believe they have already developed strategies which assume the gradual deterioration of the desktop dominance they have enjoyed with Windows.
    A more likely scenario is that MS starts making Windows a free or ridiculously low priced operating system, and starts offering other players a seat at the table for a fee.
    But nothing is impossible. I doubt that Microsoft is unaware of how ill-received their own Linux distro would be viewed…

  • The only way that MS would consider offering their own 100% Linux distribution would be if they could figure out a way to Embrace, Extend, and EXTINGUISH Linux in the process. This would undoubtedly mean going to closed source and violating GPL, but MS is big and rich enough that they can buy their way out of any legal challenge (see what happened to antitrust actions against MS).
    If they could plop a /proprietary/ Windows shell over a Linux core, and keep /that/ proprietary (for pay), they could gain the best of all worlds — a stable, fast kernel (that they don’t have to spend much money developing) with income from the proprietary shell, and a huge captive audience. See Mac OS X as the inspiration. I’m sure that they could come up with “glue” loader to run .com and .exe files, along with DLLs, in a compatibility mode, while migrating to Linux executables and shared libraries long term. They might even have a switch to go between case-sensitive Linux file names and case-insensitive-cum-blanks-and-punctuation Windows file names.

  • All of the comments sound great, but they’re more emotional than factual.
    The kernels themselves aren’t THAT different – Yes, there’s plenty of differences – but both Windows Server and Linux, at the core kernel level, are very good performing kernels.
    Where things fall apart is the applications and drivers – IMHO moving the video drives into the kernel on a server os was a mistake (done back in NT 4 or Windows 2000, don’t recall which. This is because of potential stability issues.
    Making the Windows kernel run user mode Linux would be more likely, like Nexentra Project does for Solaris running user mode Linux – while still at the kernel level it’s Solaris (OpenSolaris). This wouldn’t be THAT difficult. After all there’s already many interop tools to help Windows run many *nix tasks / scripts.

  • Unlike several people here I can’t really see the advantage of Microsoft offering a Linux distro for several reasons.
    The first is – that by getting into the Linux arena they divide their development resources and have to fight an uphill battle with the existing Linux community which is arleady very much against them so there’s really not a profit motive for them there and a lot of money going into an effort to provide something that others are already doing with a decades long advantage. From a practical advantage, it’s just not a smart move there.
    From a marketing view – what’s there to gain? Really? The love of the Linux community? Okay so even if they succeed they wind up essentially having to give away a product they have to support – since the other distros are in many/most cases basically free. The cost of globally supporting product on the scale that Microsoft does makes that a total loss. Most of the distros out there actually make their money off the service and support side of things.
    Lastly due to Microsoft’s size they HAVE to create a product that “works” out of the box, and allows support for pretty much any company that wants to create a driver for the product. Which means now Microsoft also has to create not just any distro of Linux, but a distro that out of the box works with all the same video cards, perifpherals, etc., that everyone have come to expect from a Microsoft product.
    One of the biggest reasons Microsoft products have crashed is because ironically not the OS itself but how the OS works with 3rd party drivers. The core OS actually is pretty stable. But it supports a magnitude of drivers and peripherals out of the box that no other OS out there does. Not Mac, not Linux, no one supports the number of devices, software and peripherals that Windows does. That’s not bragging that’s just a fact. And Microsoft HAS to provide access to all of those manufacturers or they’re guilty of a variety of law suits about being monopolistic and all violating anti-trust laws. So this isn’t a question of if they could, or if they wanted to – they can’t legally play like a Linux distro company does. They’re too big and the various governments of the world would tear them apart (literally). So the cost of spooling up another OS would be crippling to them, wouldn’t really gain them much, and lastly – the reality is that for all the talk of Linux “gaining ground” they still make up such a miniscule part of the market for OS’s there’s not much meat there.
    Sure they’re a threat – but they’re only a threat because of their potential to be a threat. The reality is they only challenge Microsoft on the server market. They barely have what can be considered serious market share for the desktop market

  • “Making the Windows kernel run user mode Linux would be more likely (…). This wouldn’t be THAT difficult.”
    There is such a thing already. It is called coLinux:

  • Daniel Haney

    Is there room for an aggressive monopolist in a decentralized GPL software consortium?
    Indeed, MS still chafes that 50% of all Fortune 500 companies and 70% of all banks use Linux on the server side.
    MS has spent too much money behind the scenes trying to diminish Linux in particular and open standards in general. Their history and corporate culture strongly militate against any drastic change. Look at what and when they have patented for a measure of MS rapacity: the VFAT file system 20 years after the fact.
    Their recent forays into open source are yet another manifestation of their “embrace, extend, extinguish” strategy, e.g., an open source .NET implementation that no prudent developer would use since it is certain that MS will eventually seal off crucial Silverlight functionality behind patents and onerous licenses.
    The answer to the question is “no”

  • Bill D'Camp

    I do not see how they gain anything from doing that, and they would certainly lose a lot. Microsoft has never dealt well with competitors, if they could beat them they usually buy them and kneecap the purchased product(s) to promote their own.

  • I describe to my pals that linux system OS is so very much better than Windows xp however i doubt any of these folks have yet changed!

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