Lintel Turns Up the Heat

Growth of Linux on Intel spurs debate about what options Microsoft has.

Whether or not Microsoft Corp. ends up porting its software to Linux, as a research company suggested last week, the battle between Windows and Linux on Intel Corp.- compatible hardware could have at least one positive effect: lower prices for Windows software, users said.

Research company Meta Group Inc. last week threw the cat among the pigeons by suggesting that Microsoft will start porting certain .Net components and other software—such as the SQL Server database, Internet Information Services and Exchange—to Linux by late 2004.

Meta researchers, in Stamford, Conn., said porting is inevitable since "Lintel" (Linux on Intel) platforms will make up 45 percent of server sales by 2007.

Peter Houston, Microsofts senior director of Windows server strategies, in Redmond, Wash., denied that any such move is in the cards and declined to discuss what porting would involve technically.

"I want to be really clear about this: We continue to believe we are delivering greater business value and lower long-term cost for customers by focusing on the Windows platform. We have no plans to deliver our products on Linux," Houston said.

A source close to Microsoft, however, told eWeek that any move toward Linux would be time-consuming and costly. "Linux is nowhere near as advanced as Windows," the source said. "Wed have to look at developing an entirely new component model or think about adopting Java 2 Enterprise Edition.

"You have to go into the Windows platform and look at all the shared services and port all of these collectively," the source said. "Thats a massive undertaking and one for which there is no compelling business value."

Microsoft would likely drop its prices significantly before considering a port to Linux as a way to counter the Lintel threat, said customers such as David Blomberg, an engineer at a large network solutions company in Tokyo. "When Microsofts FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] and funding of political groups are no longer enough, I expect they will lower their product prices, which will be good for all users," he said.

Microsofts Houston countered that growth projections for Linux are unrealistic and extreme and that Microsoft will stay competitive by continuing to offer a lower TCO (total cost of ownership) and better value than Linux.

Users agreed that TCO will be a card Microsoft will continue to play. Robert David, a systems manager for a global consulting company in Cambridge, Mass., said he expects Microsoft to continue to push its TCO defense, hoping that this will play well with CIOs.

"But I do think they are worried when the CIOs come back with pressure to cut costs. This should be an interesting battle as it plays out. But, as a user of technology, I like choice—always have," David said, adding that Microsoft support for Linux servers would give more options and benefit all server software customers.

While Linux and Windows users polled by eWeek last week said it is inevitable that Microsoft will have to move some technologies to Linux, they were divided over the benefits or usefulness of such a move to them.

A programmer for the U.S. Coast Guard in Northern Virginia said Microsoft will use "whatever means available, legal or otherwise. Now that the courts have pretty much pooh-poohed their misdeeds, they will continue unabated."

Blomberg said he does not want Microsoft to port any of its software to Linux because Microsoft makes "dollar-driven code, and as long as the time to market and dollars are pushing the coding, it will always be seriously riddled with bugs.

"I am already too busy maintaining the Windows server problems we have now and would hate to have the same with our Linux ones. While I would like to see the source code to Windows, Microsoft is unlikely to ever reveal much more than a showing of it. In contrast, Linux code is open to all," Blomberg said.