Saturday, June 16, 2007

Could Microsoft Be Going Open Source: Through Linux?

For a long time now I have been convinced that open source is the future. In the past, through things like FUD, Microsoft has actively tried to prevent this from being the case. Could it be that Microsoft is finally facing the reality that: the future is one of open source and if they act now, through deals, they can painlessly become a part of it?

If Microsoft wanted to get involved in the open source game they would have a couple options: First they could just open source Windows, Office, etc... I have a feeling this would be a major disruption to their business model.

Alternatively, they could take a much easier route: adopt Linux as their own. If Microsoft can continue to make deals with Linux distributions they would have an open source platform that is mature and well established throughout the world. If Microsoft could adopt Linux in such a way that the community support for it remains strong, the deal would work to Microsoft's benefit.

I'll give an example. What if Microsoft could extend the olive branch to a distribution like Ubuntu in such a way that the community, for the most part, would still support it? Microsoft probably sees that a well maintained community Linux distribution is fairly cheap to run. (I believe Mark has invested ~$10 Million). That's pennies for Microsoft. Furthermore, not only is Ubuntu a very solid community distribution, it has deals with major players like Sun and Dell and therefore has the potential of standing on its own two feet and making a profit in a commercial way.

Now, in reality, Ubuntu has not announced any deals with Microsoft. However, I believe the same logic applies to the distributions they have cut deals with. They are established open source platforms, cheap to maintain because of community support, and have proven they can make it in the commercial world. Furthermore, If Microsoft could could find a way to get all these Linux distributions to collaborate and work together, Linux would be a much more standard platform across the various distributions. This might actually be good for Linux and open source as well.

This would give Microsoft an open source future in a very painless way: adopt the already established Linux platforms as your own. Extend the olive branch, give them their new GPL 3 and reap the benefits of Linux in the commercial market, the future commercial market based on open source.


  1. Although America likes to think it owns the world, it only uses 80% of the resources, and doesn't control the IP laws of other countries.

    The British, from whence hails Ubuntu do not believe in software patents, so such a deal would be counter productive, as many Anti American buyers support this distro.

    It would make more sense if MS set up a web2 Novell SLED server system that could robustly and cheaply host MS Office.

    They are already getting Novell, Ximian and Linspire to freely do all the interoperability development they need to support their Office products on a web2 Linux server environment for which they receive income and be able to build an OOXML search facility to rival Google and Yahoo.

    This way they will gain extra income in areas they are trying to penetrate, leaving the silly people in the 1.5% Linux desktop market to imagine that they are the target.

  2. Your right, Microsoft wants a piece of the open source action. They probably will try to play the Linux market too.

  3. You will sound more like you know what you're talking about if you have your facts correct. Ubuntu hails from South Africa.

  4. I'm not sure an "open-source" Microsoft could really be called Microsoft anymore. The transformation from the proprietary, monopoly they are today, to the free software community member they would become by becoming open-source would render them as a totally new entity.

    However, I think the possibility that Microsoft is hedging their bets on the success or failure of open-source (ie. Linux) is worth considering. Microsoft has been pretty far-sighted before, in fact, I think that's the secret of their success -staying a step ahead.

  5. You are on to something. Windows VistA took 5 years to develop and $6 billion. It nearly broke the company and it's a dud. Other than updates, Microsoft will not be able to develop another operating system. So, if Microsoft wishes to remain in the operating system business, say five years from now, their only option at this time is to purchase one or more Linux distributions and release them as "Microsoft Linux."

  6. Everytime a Linux system displaces a Microsoft system, Redmond looses revenue and therefore profit. Participating in the Linux market is not a growth strategy for Microsoft due to the canibalisation effect on Windows. Anything that harms the Windows or Office franchise for Microsoft is a disaster for Redmond ..... so dont hold your breath on Microsoft becoming a positive contributor to the success of Linux in any way (hype aside).

  7. "You will sound more like you know what you're talking about if you have your facts correct. Ubuntu hails from South Africa.

    Canonical is in the sovereign nation the "Isle of Man", near the UK IIRC. Mark Shuttleworth is from S. Africa.

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