Microsoft Holding Its Ground on Office for Linux

The OSDL's chief says Microsoft may be forced to offer Office for Linux; Microsoft, however, strongly disagrees.

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.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick 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.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick 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.