Microsoft Holding Its Ground on Office for Linux

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-09-01

Microsoft Holding Its Ground on Office for Linux

Some prominent figures in the Linux community believe that as enterprises increase their use of Linux on the desktop, Microsoft Corp. will be forced to consider offering a version of Office for Linux—or at least make its software more interoperable with open-source desktop productivity suites.

"When the [Linux desktop] market share gets to a certain point, Microsoft will, just as it did with Apple [Computer Inc.] in the past, make Office available on Linux," Open Source Development Labs Inc. CEO Stuart Cohen told eWEEK in a recent interview.

"Im sure they have done the work and that they know what the market numbers need to be for that to be financially viable for them. I really think that when enough of their enterprise customers office workers, help centers, IT and engineering departments are running Linux on the desktop and interoperability really becomes an issue, they will go and listen to their customers," he said, acknowledging that he has no evidence of any willingness on Microsofts part to allow Office to run on top of Linux.

But Mark Martin, a Microsoft spokesman, strongly denied that any such plan is in the cards for Office. "Microsoft has consistently said that Windows is the platform of choice for Office, and there is no plan to develop a version of Office for Linux," he told eWEEK.

Bill Hilf, Microsofts director of platform technology and the man behind the Linux and Open Source Software Lab at Microsofts Redmond, Wash., campus, also told eWEEK in a recent interview that Microsoft has not created a prototype of Office for Linux. To do so would be extremely technically challenging and would require a huge investment of staff and financial resources, he said. "Why would we do for something that does not play into our product or business plans?" Hilf asked.

Click here to read more about Microsofts Linux Lab.

Analysts and even some in the open-source community have pointed out how Linux on the desktop lags the momentum on the server side, even though companies like Novell Inc. are saying their next-version desktops will surpass Windows.

Andrew Morton, who, along with Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds, is employed by the OSDL, said at the recent OReilly Open Source Conference in Portland, Ore., that Linux on the desktop is not yet ready for those information workers who are known as power users.

But, Cohen said, Linux on the desktop "is actually doing pretty well. I think Linux on the laptop is the one that is behind, and thats the mobile professional. I think that when open-source software and applications start to really gain momentum with laptop users, that is when you will see [the Office for Linux] move happen, and that could certainly be within the next few years," he said.

While Cohen rejected Microsofts recent proposal that Microsoft and the OSDL work on some fact-based analysis of Linux and Windows, the doors to communication between them are not closed.

Click here to read why the OSDL turned down Microsofts offer to co-sponsor a Linux vs. Windows study.

Cohen acknowledged that he and Martin Taylor, general manager for Microsofts platform strategy, talked about follow-on meetings between them and with Brad Smith, Microsofts general counsel.

"We talked about a series of things that we may be able to do and do together," he said, but added that he is less optimistic about those meetings now, given the public exposure of their discussion around collaborating on research.

Next Page: Thawing relations.

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There are other indications that the often-hostile relations between Microsoft and the open-source community are thawing, as Microsoft continues to reach out and open new dialogue with the most prominent members of the open-source community.

As first reported in eWEEK, Microsoft invited Michael Tiemann, president of the Open Source Initiative and vice president of open-source affairs at Linux vendor Red Hat Inc., to meet and start a constructive dialogue.

Earlier this year, Microsofts Smith also extended an olive branch to the open-source community, asking for a meeting to see how his company could better work with the community.

If Microsoft wants to collaborate with the OSDL and the open-source community, the company should start working to ensure that Linux and Windows work better together, said some open-source software users.

A good place to start would be for Microsoft to publish, in an unencumbered form, the information necessary for third-party software to interoperate fully with products like Office and Exchange, said Con Zyaris, CEO of Cybersource Pty. Ltd., an open-source solutions company in Melbourne, Australia.

"Most businesses will end up running a combination of proprietary and open-source software. By joining with the open-source industry and working toward reducing the interoperability headaches between the two, Microsoft can help its own customers as well as make it easier for users to select and move to the platform that is best suited to them," he said.

Most of the efforts toward improving interoperability between open-source software and the Microsoft platforms have been shouldered by the open-source community. "Apache, PHP, MySQL, Perl, Sendmail, PostgreSQL, Firefox, and several thousand other open-source technologies have been ported to run on Windows. In comparison, Microsoft has not made any effort to bring any of its major technologies, such as Exchange, Office, Outlook, Internet Explorer or SQL Server, to Linux," Zyaris said.

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