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Russell Shaw ,
Courtesy of Yahoo News Factor

Microsoft Linux in the Wind?
Nov 20th, 2003

Speculation that Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT - news) might build a flavor of Linux (news - web sites) into Windows Server 2003 has been rife since May, when the company said it was licensing the Unix (news - web sites) source code and patent from the SCO Group. That action followed SCO's infamous US$1 billion lawsuit, filed in March, which accuses IBM (NYSE: IBM - news) of improperly lifting copyrighted Unix technology and building it into Linux.

The Microsoft-Linux speculation has been fueled by Linux' increasing prominence on the enterprise server level, largely thanks to IBM, and Microsoft's historical willingness to react to competitive threats by creating its own versions of rival products.

Still, despite the speculation, there is considerable doubt that Microsoft will develop or distribute its own version of Linux anytime soon.

Proprietary by Nature
Perhaps the most compelling reason for skepticism is that such a move would be against Microsoft's very nature.

"At this point, Microsoft appears to be opposed to both the concept of open-source software, in general, and Linux, in specific," Dan Kusnetsky, vice president of system software for IDC, told NewsFactor. "I'd have to say that the chance of Microsoft offering a Linux operating system is rather remote."

Even if the software giant were to revise its philosophy, there is the matter of whether such a move would make sense in financial terms.

"Microsoft's management has a responsibility to maintain and increase shareholder value," Stacey Quandt, principal analyst, Open Source Development Lab, told NewsFactor. "At the same time, Microsoft's survival in its present form depends on maintaining and increasing the Windows operating system installed base. Hence," she concluded, "it is highly unlikely that Microsoft will create a Linux operating system."

That Pesky GPL

Apart from the business and corporate-culture issues, the main barrier toward Microsoft Linux may be Linux's GPL (General Public License),




which allows developers access to the source code in order to create their own enhancements and applications. The GPL would be problematic for Microsoft on several levels.

"The GPL is a very viral license, and anything it touches has to be given away," noted Ted Schadler, principal analyst for Forrester Research. "That being the case, it would be very hard for a commercial operating-system provider to distribute a version of Linux without running the risk of having its own proprietary code touch it," he told NewsFactor.

The openness mandated by GPL is so contrary to Microsoft's technical culture that the Redmond, Washington, giant would not be able to accept Linux, says David Smith, vice-president at Gartner Research. "Not everything will change at Microsoft. Some deeply held beliefs, such as the importance of the OS and tight integration, will remain set in stone," he told NewsFactor.

"Microsoft continues to believe in tight integration between its OS, middleware and applications," Smith explained. "With Linux, the General Public License requires that any changes to the code be made available to the open-source software community. Therefore, the importance of the OS, and the capability for tight technical integration, is a major barrier to Microsoft's potential willingness to support Linux."

Gates of Wrath?
One possible alternate strategy might be for Microsoft to develop a version of Linux that is different enough from available products that it could be passed off as a somewhat original creation. But would the open-source community -- which regularly castigates Microsoft on message boards and Web sites -- accept a Microsoft-influenced Linux product?

"What would be the effect on the market if they developed their own Linux? Well, one issue is, what does it mean to have your own Linux?" queried Thomas Murphy, senior program director of research services at the Meta Group. "[Microsoft] really can't have any secret sauce, and anything they add to the OS would have to go open source also," he told NewsFactor.

"If they did anything that made it their own, then they would be hammered for trying to break Linux, and open-source advocates would not trust this," Murphy added.

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